Physical workplace increases productivity, the effects of working from home are still unclear

Research Working in a physical workplace increases productivity and stimulates innovation. However, working from home has become more and more normal due to the corona pandemic. According to the Brookings researchers, there is no reason to scrap investment in mixed inner city ‘activity centres’. On the contrary.

“Working from home two days a week is still the norm,” wrote in November. The consequences of the global corona pandemic have left their mark on the relationship between people and their physical workplace. Urban areas in particular suffered: with growing vacant offices as one of the consequences of working from home as the new normal (pdf). A “back to the office bingo” or “welcome back lunch” couldn’t do much to change that.

However, the added value of working physically in metropolitan regions should certainly not be underestimated, say Brookings researchers in a new report (pdf). Before the corona pandemic, books were written about the economic benefits of a high employment density in an area.


For example, it has already been shown that the physical proximity between employees in different companies ensures that they build relationships and networks and transfer knowledge. Such an environment leads to continuous innovation. Brookings’ new report confirms the added value of so-called ‘activity centers’ in American metropolitan regions.

People want to continue meeting, whether it is purely financial or social

What do we mean by “activity centers”? They are places where economic, physical, social and community resources meet on a clearly defined, hyperlocal scale. But it is not the only criterion. The density of work, the presence of large sports stadiums, the density of restaurants, parks and post offices also determine whether an area qualifies as an “activity center”.

Measurable value

The researchers see a strong correlation between the density of workplaces in these centers of activity and economic productivity. The data they use comes from 2018 and 2019, i.e. before the pandemic. That bottom line is that there is “substantial, measurable value to employers and the economy when companies place their employees not only close to their colleagues, but also with workers from other companies and industries”

‘Claude Debussylaan on Zuidas, Amsterdam’

by David Peperkamp


Reason enough to return to the physical workplace and say goodbye to it forever online meetings. But it seems to happen only in spades, as was already shown earlier this year The latest message on also confirms that a large part of the workforce continues to gravitate towards working remotely, although the exact reasons for this are not known.

Investments in infrastructure and a good living environment are still necessary to bring people into contact with each other

The researchers emphasize that there are still many questions about the connection between the physical workplace and productivity. It is also very possible that new technologies, such as the now fully integrated and accepted Team Meetings and Zoom calls, allow employees and companies to increase productivity without physical proximity. After all, there are significant savings on unnecessary travel time, something that will certainly continue to be an important factor with the increasing traffic jams.

Keep investing

Nevertheless, the researchers state in the report that investment in centers remains necessary. People want to continue meeting, whether it is purely financial or social. Investments in infrastructure and a good living environment are therefore still necessary to bring people into contact with each other. In short: working from home does not replace this function.

In addition, the researchers want to repeat the analyzes as soon as post-Covid data become available to test how the pandemic has changed the economic geography of US metropolitan regions. Then continue.

Tess van den Bossche by Tess van den Bossche (source: LinkedIn)

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