Zoom calls used to set my teeth on edge, but now it’s just routine, as is my morning commute, which at 25 paces from my bed, won’t cause a pedometer too much stress. We multi-task like legends and I’m half expecting models wearing sharp jackets and ties up top and baggy lounge pants below on the world’s uber fashion catwalks. But great teams are made of more than just a bunch of people slogging away in their spare bedroom, kitchen table or sofa.
There’s been a liberal sprinkling of magic in all the best teams I’ve worked in, made up of people that peppered even the worst days at work with a moment of pure fun and joy. The teams who’ve put everything they had into a project we’ve worked on, have celebrated together, learned together, stood together and fallen over together, after one or two too many drinks at an awards’ do. The physical office building has always been the place where that magic happened and most of the ones I’ve worked in have been fairly uninspiring buildings. Places where nothing works as it’s supposed to, rooms with little personality, tired decor and a smattering of houseplants dreaming of photosynthesis. But they’ve been the places where I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever known and all of them have helped me build experience, expertise and a career I doubt I’d have achieved, had I been working solo. Right now, some employees feel as though they are fighting for the right to hang onto the trust and privilege of home working. But by any measure, collaboration and working together is where that magic is waiting and whilst it’s possible to do some of that using technology, there’s just no substitute for being physically together, at least some of the time. Selling that to the next generation of talent and leaders is absolutely crucial, for they could miss out on so much… and so will we, if we pursue a purely work at home mentality.
Perhaps the beer fridge isn’t dead after all, maybe there’s life left in the old pool table, the bean bag sofas and stadium seating. But will that be enough to encourage Gens Z and Alpha to leave the house and build future teams? Because, beyond the pandemic, looking out over the next 20 years, it’s difficult to imagine a world where we simply don’t see each other in person anymore. So, what does the office look like if we’re going to persuade the team to pull on their non-elasticated clothes, make the commute and risk not being in when the latest bundle of parcels from Amazon turns up? It’s time to think about the office as more of a venue, a space where most things happen, apart from the work you do at home. It’s a place to meet, to learn, to collaborate, to celebrate, to bond, to communicate and to socialise. It’s a trip we will look forward to making, the highlight of our week, in complete contrast to the old place, where we were tied to our desks and slaves to our emails or desk phone. Maybe there’s a VIP experience – a chauffeur driven Tesla to transport us from the Park and Ride into the office. But then again, maybe not. But maybe there’s a car park where colleagues can ditch their car ahead of the traffic and pick up an electric scooter. Perhaps there will be hotel-style concierge, welcoming people every day and offering a helping hand with services like, running an errand or booking a table for lunch. There could be a programme of events to really make it worthwhile for people to come in, which could be training, perhaps special guests or motivational speakers or maybe something purely for fun. A billboard of ‘what’s on’ in the lobby would definitely give the office more of a venue vibe.
Ultimately, it’s about creating somewhere that makes coming into the office as easy as possible, helping us to balance our work and home-lives with flexible hours, support with our responsibilities as carers, household chores and the hundred and one things that need to be managed in and around our career. Depending on how much space you have, it might become a more open place to work, somewhere to share with a wider section of the community and even helping incubate micro businesses, start-ups and the self-employed. An opportunity to support the area in which you work and put brand at the heart of a vibrant, growing business community. Of course, it has to look good too – be Instagram ready – and a place that inspires us to meet, collaborate and be creative. A place that brings the whole team together – an inclusive environment that blends the old with the new – allowing us to be truly connected, flexible and adaptable.
Much as places become synonymous with what they offer – Raffles for Singapore Slings, Broadway to see a show, Swindon to admire roundabouts – the office needs to be established as that place where we have the creativity, community and inclusion that work should give us. There are huge challenges to face over the coming years, almost every business is tackling a transformation agenda and the office has a significant role to play in supporting organisations to make that a success. Sure, some of this stuff is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but over this very challenging time, we’ve demonstrated how capable, flexible and adaptable we can be. In this time of revolution, HR is in the driving seat for the journey that will make businesses attractive from the outside as well as inside, ensuring that people feel safe and valued. The advocacy for talent at a very human level amongst the HR community is something we should all be proud of and, as things return to something approaching normal, there’s a stronger business case for strategic HR than there has ever been. That strength should give us all more confidence to continue to advocate, challenge and transform the places where we work.