A few days ago, I was chatting with my brother-in-law, who is the MD of an SME working in the office design and fit out field. At some point in the conversation, we got onto the subject of Covid and how it had affected his business. I was quite surprised how adamant he was to bring all his team of 12 back from homeworking as soon as possible and back to the office. At first, I wondered if it was a trust ‘thing’ but I have known him for many years and this didn’t ring true. We chatted about the issues of communication and team engagement when his team worked remotely and how Teams and Zoom fill a gap, but only short term. Being in the office works for many people.
I thought about my own situation. Furloughed back in April 2020 and later in the year I faced redundancy. After 6 months of being out of work, I was given a lifeline! Following some phone calls and a successful Zoom assessment day I got to meet the MD (in person) for an informal chat. What was intended to be a one-hour chat at most went well beyond 2 hours. I apologised a number of times for talking so much, it felt like I was opening a flood gate. I had 18 months of thoughts and ideas about one of my big passions, making a difference. With the option of flexible or ‘hybrid’ working, I still choose to go to the office every day. Being in the office works for me.
You read every day about companies who have given up the leases or sold their offices, and all employees now work from home. In a recent report The British Property Federation found that 3% of employees surveyed say they will not return to the office once the pandemic is over. For many, it gives them a work-life balance which they never had before. Working from home or remotely works for many people.
Simply having a communal space where colleagues and clients can meet face-to-face has considerable benefits, such as the role an office plays in supporting staff development, mental health and wellbeing. The other day I came across an interesting article about how proximity in the office increases communication. This research or the Allen Curve, is an illustration of how, ’in an office setting, people who are stationed within 10 meters of one another have the highest probability of communication’ (Allen, 1977). This research is over 40 years old, so how can it still be relevant today? Recent studies show that it’s still valid and that ‘when face-to-face communication increases the potential for team successes are improved’ (Stryker & Santoro, 2012). Working closely helps to improve performance.
So where do these options leave you as a leader? As with most things in life it’s about finding the right balance that works for everyone and financially. It’s about speaking with employees and finding out about their individual needs and preferences. It’s about getting the team together and having those conversations about great communication and the best way to reach their goals. It’s about weighing up the pros and cons of using tech for communication and the benefits of reducing office costs. It’s about what works for the business.
If you need any help around these areas, we are here for you and have lots of opportunities through funding to support team and individual development to improve how you work as a team and as an individual.
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