May 26, 2020
So we’ve demonstrated that we can work from home. But is it a permanent solution? We hear senior managers counting the numbers and working out just how much money will be saved if organisations no longer need their office space. It’s a seductive argument. So before we all settle down in our spare bedrooms with a sigh of relief, let’s just have a think about what that model would mean in the long term.
There is a whole bunch of arguments about the benefits of collaborative working, the social aspect of work etc, but I think the most significant long-term consequence is on the recruitment and development of the next generation of talent.
For those of us in management, fortunate enough to have benefitted from the property boom of the last twenty years, working from home is relatively easy option. Spare bedroom, garden shed, whatever. But for young people it’s a very different picture. Working from a bedroom in a shared flat is hardly the life experience anyone was looking for.
Working from a bedroom in a shared flat is hardly the life experience anyone was looking for
If we dispense with the office, where is the opportunity for the 20-somethings to move out from home and start their own life?
Asking those people to work from home perpetuates inequalities. Social mobility requires just that – mobility. If you give people no option but to work from home, who will benefit? Clearly the middle-classes whose parents can provide space, quiet and a high-quality internet connection.
A workforce rooted at home risks a further polarisation of society. Staying close to home may be great for those of us who live in affluent, accepting communities. A disaster for those trapped in less fortunate spaces.
Once we go down this road, our businesses will massively lose out on the diversity of aptitude, culture and perspective that is essential to build a flexible, forward-thinking organisation. And without a strong company culture to encourage training, support and mentoring, we are in danger of losing a whole generation of talent – just when we need it most.
So what to do? I am intrigued by the advice on keeping staff safe in offices, much of which seems to support what we instinctively know. That what we want as individuals is our own space (and more of it), customised to suit our own preference.
Hands up who actually liked Hot Desking? And how many of us viewed with dismay an open plan expanse filled with tiny identical desks in rows with “break out spaces” supposed to provide relaxation and collaboration?
Too often this looked like a model designed to cram the maximum number of people into the minimum space with the focus purely on the numbers – not the individual experience.
So perhaps in the coming mix of home v office what we actually need to be considering is more office, not less. Offices with genuinely vibrant, flexible cultures. Staggered working times, priority on meetings that are strictly necessary for collaborative working, a better planned and more efficient use of shared time.
And most importantly, office spaces that are designed for individuals. Think about your home working space – what do you value most? Space? A window? Everything arranged exactly as you like it? We should be trying to recreate the best aspects of our home offices in our shared workspaces.
This pandemic is certainly a major wake-up call for office life. Let’s make it an opportunity to rethink the structure rather than making short-term decisions to throw the baby out with the bathwater.