Office vs Remote
As we start to think about returning to our workplaces, we have an opportunity to reflect on the last couple of months. It’s clear that our current situation is not how we would design remote working in an ideal world, but that’s not to say we should ignore it entirely as a learning opportunity. For me personally there are elements from the last couple of months that have worked really well; I love to read, and having more time at home has meant I’ve managed to work my way through a decent stack of books. At the same time, I have missed being in the same room as other people.
Several surveys have espoused the benefits of remote working, with several boasting the improved productivity of staff working at home. I wonder whether that’s a truly reliable measure? There are potentially many personal reasons why that might not be an entirely true reflection, including people’s nervousness about being perceived to be slacking off or fear of being put onto furlough. For those perched on the corner of a dining table with three housemates, or those juggling childcare and work for instance could be forgiven for thinking that they should overinflate their productivity score to help assuage any fears they may have about other people’s perceptions.
In addition to these concerns, there is a difference between perceived productivity and actual productivity. Being at home with fewer distractions (other than a very demanding cat and unending zoom calls!) may mean I work through my to-do list more readily, but that is potentially at the expense of those ‘spark’ moments you get when sat together, or overhearing what else is going on and contributing to a conversation. For example, I’ve realised the huge value of travel time between client meetings. Whether as a time for informal chat with colleagues, or brainstorming an idea for a new project, that time that always seemed to be wasted was actually hugely beneficial in being a well-rounded contributor to the company’s success.
The moral of my story is simple; individually and collectively, we should reflect on what we want from our workplaces in the future, both physical and virtual. A one-size fits all approach rarely works, and this is a great example where that is true; we will all have experienced the pandemic differently, and therefore it stands to reason that our view of what we need and want in the future will also be different. I’m looking forward to a cup of tea with colleagues. I’m looking forward to being able to get a read of the room in workshops by seeing facial expressions and body language in-person, rather than on a postage-stamp sized video. I’m also looking forward to going back to choosing a place to work that suits the activity I’m doing, and that includes continuing to work in my home office and perhaps spending less time commuting.
Similar reflections appeared to ring true from the workshops we recently ran with 28 occupiers. While we may all have a different take on what has worked well and what we have missed, the commonality is that the choice between office and home should not be a binary one; it should not be either or. I suspect the future will allow us more choice, but my hope is that it’s continual choice, giving each of the autonomy to design our own mix of workplaces that makes us productive and keeps us engaged.