Working from anywhere – is it time to rethink the office?

After nearly a year of working from our kitchens, bedrooms and sheds, and about 10,000 Zoom calls, is it time to not only rethink the agency office but also our culture?

Now, you might be feeling that you would love to see your colleagues in the flesh, go for a beer after work, and settle back calmly into your desk without the distraction of children, errant pets and trying to switch that cat filter off.

But cast your mind back to the heady days of last summer and remember the sudden feeling of empowerment, the more personal one-to-one connection between your colleagues and clients, a sudden influx of personnel time taken back from long commutes, and the ability to manage your time around life’s little annoyances. Good, wasn’t it?

What the pandemic has shown us is that work isn’t something people come to the office for; it’s something you do with other people. Where and how you do it is suddenly up for debate.

There are lots of pros and cons. You could argue that the creative digital experience needs face to face collaboration and impromptu conversations. And that working in one place builds office culture and helps less experienced colleagues learn.

However, there is a flip side. I can speak from experience as someone who has worked in the industry since the days. Back then the agency office was a magical place, filled with creatives and tech wizards throwing away the old established office space and ways of corporate working. We had crazy open plan warehouse spaces filled with beanbags and electric scooters. We worked through the night and often turned up late. We didn’t have project plans or timesheets, Business cases or annual reviews, but we did create great things, with clients marvelling at our freedom.

That was 20 years ago. Did we lose our way when the industry became dominated by big corporate networks. Did we become more serious? More business focused? And as a result, have we slid into adopting the office cultures we once shunned?

Whilst some clients may be wowed by our carefully curated office space, have we adopted the culture of presenteeism, suspicion, working harder not smarter, and become slaves to the office again?

Numerous staff surveys and industry whitepapers have been created over the last nine months, and on the whole, consensus is the industry is set for a serious rethink. Many UK agencies have reported that they will be offering more flexible hours, and 100% of those asked said they will allow at least 2-3 days a week working from home. In fact, many tech giants including Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, and even Microsoft are hailing a new era of super-flexible working. Many digital agencies are looking to downsize or do away with their office all together. All made possible by new digital tools.

This is not just a digital industry thing. Most, if not all of our clients have been in the same boat. The pandemic seems to have finally prompted corporate IT departments to adapt to video calls and open previously locked down collaborations tools. Ultimately, this is the key. No matter what industry you work in, we are all individuals who achieve outcomes though collaboration – not just spend time in the office.

From an industry point of view, the pandemic has opened new opportunities. With talent no longer tied to a commutable area, we can embrace flexibility and open up our industry to people all over the world.

Here at Great State we have been doing a lot of thinking. Our most important asset is our amazing people, whose skillsets and disciplines thrive in different working environments. For me, that’s the most important point, because we rely on them to create brilliant products.

We are all individuals and businesses now need to appreciate the whole person. That means their childcare commitments, spousal arrangements, personal health preferences, fears, local rush-hours and other work-life considerations. All to get the best out of them. That’s not going to be achieved with a binary working from home policy.

Ultimately people thrive if they feel trusted and empowered, so we should create a culture and workspace to promote that. This is not just a work from home question. Perhaps we need to think in activities, not days.

People can create great things, together and from anywhere.

So, returning to the office needs to be a meaningful, energizing and worthwhile experience, or you might as well have stayed at home.

Rest assured, our office isn’t going anywhere, but it’s likely to work in a very different way. Moving from the 9-5 (as if anyone ever just worked 9-5!), to a mindset of outcomes rather than time. A drop-in hub of Great State culture, with a more collaborative space where people can work together as a group in their own time and in their own way.

Yes, we’re going back into the office, but we won’t be there all the time. It’s going to be a very different, more creative and better place when we are. And I for one am excited.

Andy Green – Client Partner

(Just for the record, I am not a cat)

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