Unlearning the meaning of the workplace

Recently, there has been a lot of noise in the media about our ‘national return to the office’. I found comments from the Prime Minister and Jacob Rees-Mogg particularly triggering. I have worked from home for a significant proportion of my career and the reality, for me at least, has not been the temptation to eat cheese!

My position on working from home was further challenged when Elon Musk joined the conversation. I justified my objection to cabinet ministers’ views by branding them as outdated and out of touch. However, when Elon Musk publicly stated his position on Twitter, I was staggered – I didn’t expect this view from someone so progressive and forward-looking! I needed to reflect and understand the issues more deeply.

My research highlighted that the issues are so complex and a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to realise benefits.

Three things to be mindful of as you consider hybrid working are:

Working without distractions

It is more productive. Various studies show how long it takes to recover our concentration after an interruption. Recovery time is dependent on multiple factors and can be as long as 20-25 minutes. Three interruptions and an hour of productive work are lost. How many interruptions do you experience in a day? How many times do you create an interruption?  How can we manage this better, so more things get completed to a higher standard more quickly?

We all need different levels of interaction with others to thrive

Introversion and extroversion are real. Extroverts thrive in busy environments with many opportunities to interact with others. Introverts thrive in quieter environments where it’s possible to consider and reflect. Extroverts create energy, whereas introverts direct energy. Both are critical traits for a successful business, however both prefer quite different work environments. How can we intentionally enable these two ways of experiencing the world to complement one another on a day-to-day basis without becoming an either/or conversation?

Relationships in the workplace

Our relationships in the workplace create a sense of belonging, generate innovation and help us navigate our personal and professional development. There’s a risk all of this will be lost if we go to an exclusively home-based working model. The long-term financial benefits of a home-based working model (reduced property and utility costs) are difficult to contest. The impact of a diminished sense of a common purpose, the loss of being able to bounce ideas around the office and the subsequent loss of a sense of opportunities are hard to measure. Still, it’s not hard to imagine quite how significant it could be.

I don’t have the answers to these challenges, but I am sure of this – with open minds, a commitment to understanding each other and an ambition to improve results sustainably – there is an opportunity to make our workplaces world-leading. We can create places where balancing what an individual needs to be their most productive with the requirements of their colleagues, and the business will deliver sustained improvement and increased profitability.