Mike Beesley in defence of the office: "We need to be together to make great things happen"

Mike Beesley in defence of the office:

Covid-19 has resulted in office-based employees working from home with technology facilitating this shift while retaining productivity levels. But, what about creativity? Innovation is the bedrock of UK Plc – but if we continue with remote working, do we risk losing these vital components by removing the chemistry that comes of being together?

As the Government brings in new guidance for people to return to the office, recruitment industry expert Mike Beesley considers the importance of a great working environment and calls on companies to do more to ensure people want to return to not just a safe workplace but a better one …

I’ve got to be honest – I’ve not enjoyed working from home one bit during the past few months.

The tragic loss of life is devastating. But also watching the world of business suffer so dramatically at the hands of this pandemic from the comparative comfort of my study has been one of the most gut-wrenching experiences of my life.

After 40+ years working in jobs I love with people I admire and respect, it was hard at times to contemplate how we would ever recover the camaraderie and natural creativity that's born out of being in a room together, coming up with solutions and making things happen.

I realise this may sound ‘old school’, and it must be done with the safety of colleagues paramount in any preparation, but there is much to be said for us being together. Humans, after all, are built for social interaction and, while many businesses have built successful remote technologies to enable multi-site working, there will never be anything that beats seeing people in person.

It is also true that, while, the pandemic is bound to have a major impact on how we work, it has always been the case that external forces have shaped this process.

Not many millennials, for example, working from coffee shops and flexible offices would credit their ability to do so to code breakers in the second world war. And the same goes for the suited and booted in glossy, streamlined offices who would never consider the advent of steel frame construction as the reason they can have their cityscape corner office.

In the Western World, the origins of the office, in fact, predate all modern ideology and lie with organisations that grew to scale, such as religious orders and then governments and the first global businesses like the East India Trading Company.

But, the one thing that all of this has in common with the modern workplace is they were built for people to congregate and get things done, to come up with solutions to the world’s problems – to create new ways of thinking.

It is this collectiveness and connectedness that breeds creativity and it is this we must word hard to protect. Yes, technology has enabled us to be productive and maintain a level of output across most sectors that is both admirable and astonishing, given the situation.

And this has, in itself, taken a vast amount of creative thinking to engineer – but we must ask is it sustainable? Can we both be productive AND creative if we do not have bespoke spaces where humans can see other humans in person? 

Of course, there will remain an undeniable, and perfectly correct, shift towards flexible work practices that the pandemic will have accelerated. But we must encourage, nay ensure, that office-based workers will still be in the office at least some days a week. This 'hybrid' option, to my mind has many benefits.

Not least of these reasons is a need for many to separate work from home. (I can’t be the only one who has found it almost impossible to switch off?) And then there is the face-to-face collaboration and client meetings that really are the bedrock of making the business world go around.

Let’s also not forget the importance of mentoring. For young people to be around those at the peak of their performance to learn from and aspire to needs the physical world. The office is also fantastic at creating genuine bonds of friendship, sharing networks and ideas … the list goes on.

However, I do not say all this lightly for what is clear is that business leaders have a lot to decide on – and quickly – about how they are going to create the right workplace for their own organisation. This is a fantastic read by Mark W.Johnson and Josh Suskewicz on steering your business ship through these difficult decisions as they ask “does your company have a long-term plan for remote work?” 

They, as I, generally come to the conclusion that this is not just about the bottom line and profit margins. Our role as business leaders is to take people on a journey, to create opportunity, to generate wealth for all – and, vitally, to create something powerful and meaningful. I honestly don’t think you can do that entirely over Zoom.

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