In a strange move for a Conservative government, it was announced recently that workers will actively be encouraged to return to the office in order to help businesses such as coffee shops, who rely on the custom of office workers. I use the word ‘strange’ because asking the population to behave in a certain way in order to support part of the economy seems like the beginning of a planned economy – the antithesis of free market conservatism – proving it’s not the panacea they often claim. In addition, many local independent shops have actually enjoyed a boost due to people staying at home in places that would usually be deserted during the day.
I recently broke my streak of 115 days of home working and returned to the office for the first time since March. I eagerly anticipated not having to use Microsoft Teams video calls and seeing my colleagues for the first time in person. No more would I have to endure delay, frozen screens, and overhearing partners taking meetings with their own colleagues. I was granted the pleasure of instant conversation without the awkward fumbling of headsets and the repeated ‘Can you hear me now?’ punctuating every call. I thoroughly enjoyed casual chat and felt my wellbeing improve instantly. With a limited number of people allowed in the office, it felt different to the warm buzz that would usually emanate beneath rows of monitors, but it was still hugely valuable.
Working from home has it benefits too. The lack of a long commute meant more exercise, extra pocket money and less road rage. I was able to focus more on completing tasks and I no longer had the regular 10 minute coffee and chat break in the kitchen. You could argue that in knowledge work, taking your mind off the task at hand can actually reap massive rewards, so maybe having a balance between the productivity of home work and the creative head space of office work is probably the way forward.
Whilst for many the future of work will be remote, I believe there will always be a need for a common shared office space. Whether it be a the feeling of awe we get when entering a well designed, bustling office, the motivational speech given by a company leader, the wearing of corporate ID lanyards, or just having lunch with colleagues – these are quasi-religious behaviours that are deep-seated in human history and enforce a sense of ‘togetherness’ that is essential for productive teamwork. That said, some peace and quiet is also important – so my ideal split would be something like 3 days a week at home, and 2 days in the office.
Maybe the government doesn’t need to encourage the complete return to office work quite so earnestly. Maybe those that can remotely work should be given a choice to find the balance that works best for them.