Discussions are happening in boardrooms all over the world about how to firm up the new flexible working arrangements.
Should you give employees complete freedom to work how they want to work or define how much time should be spent in the office, but leaving teams to agree which days and for which reasons they should be together.
We don’t know whether productivity gains from remote working are sustainable and what the cost is to people’s wellbeing.
We don’t know how new recruits will be impacted if they can’t see more established people going about their business, or how older employees will cope with technology transformations without younger employees to give them tips.
The other big question is ‘how will this affect company culture?’
One of the most important cultural qualities is the sense of ‘belonging’.
When people feel that they have joined a place that welcomes them, they are more likely to give more of themselves to the job.
An office doesn’t guarantee a sense of belonging. It can be exclusive, bitchy, political and siloed. It’s easier, however, when people are physically together, to introduce initiatives that build relationships. Celebrations, the pub after work, the water-cooler/tea round all provide places for people to connect at a human level.
You’ve got guidelines for meetings and the company handbook to set the tone, but in person, you overhear how leaders speak to their people and you observe little kindnesses.
Without ‘belonging’ we become more detached from how our actions affect other people. Without a sense of belonging, it’s hard to know whether we are doing a good job.
What is the office for?
the office is best for creating belonging. It’s the informal exchange of ideas, the bonding, the feedback and recognition that is hardest to achieve at a physical distance. The office provides a place to work for those who simply can’t work at home (people in a flat-share, without the space for a home office, or with a partner also working at home who talks really loudly on conference calls and taps really loudly on their keyboard… all day).
Meetings are less important face to face. Plenty of work is best done in the privacy of your own home, on a walk or before you get dressed.
We have no idea what the long term impact of all this flexibility and remote working will have on company culture. Companies are now having to figure out the best balance between office vs home and see what really works for them.