Blog: Offices at the Crossroads
As we (hopefully) gather pace towards herd immunity due to the vaccine rollout in the UK, the way we work is at a crossroads.
In the last 18 months, office workers have all adapted to remote-working. By and large, it has highlighted how huge amounts of work that previously took part within the confines of office spaces around the country could be adequately done from the comfort, or stress, of our own homes.
And sure, the benefits are evident. The linear idea of the classic 9-5 working hours has been slowly eroded, as we have each individually learnt to work around our other commitments. Whether that is caring for the kids, finding time to get to the gym during lunch hours, starting earlier so you could get out to enjoy the afternoon sun in the garden, or simply working longer hours due to the lack of structure, it is without a doubt that a full return to five days a week in the office is looking increasingly unlikely.
And whilst some aspects of the business have thrived as a consequence, other smaller, less talked about issues are now beginning to come to the fore.
One key loss has been the simple lack of interaction with colleagues. Getting out of the house each day and being in the world, where random interactions take place has reduced the number of stimuli we’ve been taking in, leaving many with a feeling of stagnation.
The small talk myth
Countless cool characters in tv shows and films often vocalise how little they enjoy “small-talk”, those small conversations that lack any real depth. But small talk is an essential part of building relationships; it opens up avenues for common points of interest that can ignite relationships and even friendships, where space more readily exists for “big-talk”.
What is also lost with these beautiful small, innocuous interactions is knowledge. As much as we try to fill the internet with all of the information available to us, the truth is that Google doesn’t always have the answer. However, the answer may be within the 20 years of experience that your colleague has collated.
This knowledge does not have to be business-crucial either but can be interesting anecdotal information that helps employees understand the value of what they’re working on, working as an antithesis to the desensitisation created by remote-working.
Targets not Timing
With many feeling the pressure to work beyond their agreed working hours because they've saved time without their commute, we have managed to erode one of the key benefits of remote working. As the world tries to figure out where we go next, key questions need to be addressed.
One suggestion has been the removal of time-based contracts, where you’re expected work hours are contracted but your output is not. By changing workload focus to be on meeting targeted output, there is potential time freed up for remote workers. However, this could also turn office work down the path of the gig-economy, which would invoke a whole array of its own issues, highlighting the need for a balanced approach.
These conversations are beginning to happen, and how each organisation reacts and plans their return back to the workplace will quite likely determine the success they have, not only to their bottom line but also in their employee happiness and retention.