I would like the office to return. I speak for myself, not for my colleagues, with no expectations that others do but for myself. The recent Google announcement will reignite the debate about the end of the office culture and It makes me a little sad. So much good has come from the office environment, sure it was not perfect and certainly came with some downsides, but on the whole it worked because of one simple thing. We don’t want to spend our lives perched in a room somewhere staring at a small screen and for the most part we don’t want to be alone. Offices at their very heart are social places where we thrive off social interaction. I sometimes think that is lost in the war on office culture.
I have come to the conclusion that those who claim the end of the office culture have some skin in the game, either their next book, a training course in how to work from home, some thesis on office culture does not work now so quick pivot to not office culture. Perhaps it could also be the companies who do want to save money in some way, there will be some of those too, but don’t point at Google, the office costs are a pin drop in the ocean of their total revenues.
So what does need to change? We need to optimise the work from home vs work in the office. Pre Covid many people were starting to talk about four day weeks and could they work? They could not have seen what was about to strike us all, but perhaps they were already understanding that the commute was the issue, the wasted time spent in hours of travel every day, the delays, the cancellations, the rigidity. Imagine the life of those tortured commuters on the broken railway franchises, they must be so happy right now!? Perhaps not. Perhaps what they needed was flexibility, perhaps a rigid start time or being able to work from home a couple of days would have helped them a lot, helped us all a lot. We made our lives so hard with that rigidness, all forced to travel at once, pay crazy prices, standing on trains. That to me is where the transition has to occur, less rigidity, more trust but always have the ability to come together when we need to, be able to look forward to coming together.
Some are pointing to the concept of online communities and how powerful they are, should we be more like that, we should learn from them, I just don’t buy it. All online communities have a real element to them, whether it’s around events, meetings, concerts, get together, coffee mornings, drinks they all have some support mechanism in the real world, work can be this. I think I would enjoy home work more if I knew I could go to London tomorrow and meet up with colleagues. I would enjoy that video conference call that avoided an early commute more if the next Monday I could see the team in Italy in person. What I absolutely can’t look forward to is staring at my computer, in a spare room for the rest of my career, that for me holds no happiness, no joy and anyone who is selling their next book about ‘How to thrive running your business in your spare room’ will find short thrift here.
One thing to be clear on though, this is not a rallying cry against whatever sensible, medical conditions we have to abide by, I am happy doing whatever the sensible medical rules say and for as long as it takes, this is about the future and how I want to live and work in the future. Flexibility between home and office being at its heart. I for one look forward to the hope of being with teams again.