‘It actually feels more social and all my staff get to work in the way that suits them’
YES — Jemma Smith, director at The Education Hotel
‘I’VE always worked from home, which I think makes it easier for me to see the benefits. I don’t see blocks to it working permanently at all,’ says Jemma Smith, who runs tuition business The Education Hotel from her home in Oxford.
‘I’ve got five employees and we all work from home. I’ve just taken on a new employee remotely this week. I’m aware that in some offices there’s a real culture of everyone needing to be seen for people to believe that they are doing some work. That wouldn’t work for us at all.
‘My staff members all have different reasons why they work from home and work part-time, and they are all different. I wouldn’t be able to employ them and get the skills and talent I needed if I had to have people in an office. It’s important to continue to work as a team, but we have strategies to ensure we do this remotely.
‘We have weekly calls and a WhatsApp group and we do meet up. But when we do, it is a different feeling to going out with the people who you are in the office with. It feels more social and no one has to be the annoying person who taps the keyboard too loudly. We can focus on enjoying each other’s company.
‘When I started working from home, I did struggle with finding a routine, but I quickly realised that I don’t have to work nine till five. That doesn’t work for me and I don’t mind when everyone else does their work either. It’s about whether they can do the work to the necessary standard.
‘There are worries about missing water cooler moments when inspiration strikes from talking together, but everyone shares ideas on WhatsApp, and I encourage everyone to bring ideas to me.
‘Because everyone can work from home, I get expertise that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get, and we all get to work in the way that suits us. I think that breeds productivity and I never wake up in the morning wishing I could go into an office.’
‘Company culture needs those moments by the water cooler’
NO — Russ Lidstone, CEO of The Creative Engagement Group
‘OUR company cultures and our business leaders need offices more than the naysayers who talk about a total switch to homeworking think,’ says Russ Lidstone, whose film and experience business The Creative Engagement Group has offices in London, Manchester, Belfast, Plymouth and the US.
‘Working from home means it’s easier to get straight down to work and potentially be more productive. But it’s also easy to fall into the trap of not allowing yourself downtime, and not giving yourself much needed time and space for personal physical and mental wellbeing. I have fond memories of my tube commute as essential decompression time — an often overlooked positive of travelling to and from work.
‘We mustn’t lose sight of the role that offices play in two areas that are fundamental to our business: building company culture and helping leaders to lead more effectively. A strong culture works at every level in an organisation. The best are serendipitous organisms and self-perpetuating. They bond people together. They cement an approach and way of working. Strong cultures are created face-to-face during meetings or an after-work beer or pizza, over disagreements and laughs, successes and failures.
‘Remote working draws down on a company culture that has already been cultivated, it doesn’t enable a culture to evolve and build. The problem with working virtually is that it is hard to share moments together across all levels of a company — no matter how many Zoom meetings, virtual drinks or teams social chats take place. The serendipity is gone. Company culture needs, by definition, people to be together — for the off-camera moments, the asides and the water-cooler chats.
‘Offices are not only physical embodiments of company cultures, however. They are also spaces in which leaders can lead, understand and be present. It is about being aware of what is going on around you, rather than simply focusing on your own tasks or challenges. It’s about being on receive rather than on transmit.
‘Detecting signals and reacting to what’s important to your teams means picking up on nuance, anecdote or accidental conversations. This allows leaders to focus on what’s important. Offices enable this to happen.’