Whose side are you on in what the Times recently termed the ‘tug of war’ over the future of the workplace?
On one hand, we have the home team. From where you’re standing on the edge of the sports pitch, it is hard to make them out. They might be liberated, productive, digitally-enabled gen Z-ers? On the other hand, some of them appear to have just come back soporific from a long lunch, wearing joggers and slippers that are going to give them little traction when the tugging gets going.
At the other end of the pitch, there is an equally eclectic mix of sorts. Some members of the team are wearing pin striped suits and brogues (arguably also not ideal for this event). They are gesticulating furiously, but also look a bit rosy post lunch. Some have a more sage look, with the confidence of experience – backed by a heavy filing cabinet of reports and surveys labelled ‘tried and tested’ and ‘we know this works’. Others still – some younger, some older – are smiling merrily, delighted to just be together again.
Of course the tug of war is a mirage, because in the furore over the future of the workplace there aren’t just two teams or two types of business. There are individuals within teams, teams within businesses and businesses that work with other businesses.
The trick is getting them to work together – balancing the needs, preferences and (sometimes) flat-out demands of these groups. There is little use in business leaders bullishly trying to spearhead a return to the office if employees are not yet ready to follow them. Likewise, if a customer is demanding a face-to-face meeting and you have moved to the other end of the country, you’ll either need to hot-foot down the motorway, or throw yourself into expanding your client base. You could, of course, seize the moment and open a new office.
The answer comes down to doing your research and building a plan. If you want to ditch the office overheads then go for it, but make sure you work out in advance how to keep your team engaged, comfortable, confident and crucially productive in their work from a distance. If you’re worried about a dearth of face-to-face networking, then invest in some other marketing tools. And if you’ve decided to join the arts set in Bruton, then prepare for the traffic jams on the A303 when desperately trying to make that client meeting you can’t miss.
Having made your plan, you then need to communicate it. Unlike some organisations we could mention, the vast majority are not doing it via a national newspaper. They’re talking to their teams, their customers and their partners about future options, keeping some ideas in reserve in case the situation changes. They are preparing not for a tug of war with very rigid rules, but a steady, considered and flexible transition.
For our part, we will be looking forward to welcoming our teams, partners and clients back to our offices – as and when the time is right. We’ll be continuing to work more flexibly than we once did, but intend to be just as enthusiastic, tenacious and approachable as we always have been. We’re also looking forward to the occasional long lunch and post-work pub trip.
Matt Lloyd is an associate director at Camargue