There’s an extent to which the current debate about working from home is based on false experiences.
Working from home right now is tough: the kids might be whingeing in the background, your flatmate might be hogging the living room and endless Zoom meetings may well be leaving you weary.
But this isn’t really working from home (and full disclosure: I’m a convert). The great joy of WFH is the chance to escape: escape the commute, escape the same four walls, escape the routine. With cafes, museums, pubs and gyms closed – plus the option of seeing others for so long denied to us – this has been working at home rather than from. If you don’t like it, perhaps that’s because we’re not doing it right.
But for some, working from home is just not for them, and they must be watching the changing working landscape with increasing horror from their new professional surroundings. Firms have realised that home working is possible and will be desperate to shed financial commitments on commercial property wherever they can. Last week Slater and Gordon announced it would leave its London office and replace it with a much smaller meeting space for those that want communal time. The firm has acted responsibly and in consultation with staff, but others might be less scrupulous. If staff can work from home, is it really worth the expense of providing them with space they don’t strictly need?
In short, the answer must be yes. Some will be missing their work-based friends, missing the water cooler moments and missing the headspace to actually work. For every colleague with a separate study and super-fast internet speed, there are others who must share a laptop or work from their bedroom. To be classed permanently as a home worker, firms will have to step up and offer suitable office equipment – and not least a comfy chair.
I spoke to a magic circle lawyer recently who had recently advised on a deal worth millions to their client. It was a joint effort, involving dozens of staff all working for one common purpose and taking months to complete. He was – to his surprise – pleased with how smoothly the matter had been handled remotely, but was left bereft at the moment when the work concluded. There was no clinking of glasses, no slap-up meal, no handshakes or congratulations. He simply moved from dining room to living room and poured himself a drink. For him, without colleagues around him, there was no sense of closure and not the same feeling of satisfaction. If we work alone then we also celebrate alone.
Clearly, firms will be attuned to this risk and most will be accommodating to those who want to come in and those – definitely an increasing number – who want to work from home. Choice is the key here, and assuring staff that if they don’t have to be in, they don’t have to come in.
Equally those who like the office should be accommodated, even if in the meantime, they work at home. Those not enjoying the experience would probably welcome their bosses assuring them there will be somewhere for them to return once this blows over.