During the past month of lockdown, I have chosen to go into the office on my own and sit at my normal desk while everyone else has been working from home. I can walk or drive to work without meeting anyone and once my day is done I head straight back home. No socialising whatsoever!
Every day I have looked out across a sea of empty desks and missed my colleagues terribly.
Why did I do this when I could have worked from home?
For me our office, isn’t just an office. It’s a professional home and a source of creative inspiration.
When I put my working hat on, it’s where I want to be because it has been designed to give us all the facilities, spaces and resources that we need to do our jobs brilliantly. But it’s not just about functionality. It’s mostly about heart and soul. Our lovely studio is where we’ve had our best ideas – together. It’s where we’ve tackled big challenges and complex problems and shaped the right creative solutions, drawing upon the knowledge and skills of a very diverse team of experts.
It’s the home for our agency family, the church for our shared beliefs, the stadium for our collective achievements.
I don’t think the office is going to disappear anytime soon for these simple reasons:
The office provides us with so many different ways to communicate from the very formal structured meeting to the very informal frown across a crowded room when someone has overhead something they don’t like or agree with. Both matter.
In the past month I have not been able to spontaneously ask my colleagues for their advice or suggestions. It takes so much more effort to pull people together for a chat. You can’t read a zoom in the same way you can read a room.
I feel removed from people, even though they are just at the end of the phone. I suppose it’s why long distance relationships don’t really work, because you need to be with each other to really understand and support each other.
Four people round a table can achieve so much more than four people on a conference call. Ideas generation requires the kind of agile collaboration and rapid communication that is best achieved while playing a game or doing an activity together. Different people bring different skills, knowledge and energy to that table and will often see the same challenge from very different perspectives. It’s the difference between one dimensional thinking and three or even four dimensions. You have to bounce ideas around and off each other to see what sticks.
As a creative agency, we also need to collaborate and co-create with our clients and I’ve missed them too! However hard you try you can’t run a full blown interactive, ideas generating workshop on a video call. We need our clients to be present in the room with us, giving their 100% focus to the challenges under consideration.
I have always believed that you cannot produce outstanding creative ideas in a dull environment. You need time, light and space to think. You need to be in an environment that inspires you and that encourages you to raise your game and develop ideas worthy of our agency and our clients.
We designed our studio with generous desks, large tables for co-creation, small, dark spaces for intense concentration, green plants and lots of natural lights for a healthy atmosphere. It’s not just a nice place to work, it’s the right space to develop great ideas that change the way people think, feel and act.
If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s that we are social creatures and we need social interaction just as much as we need to eat, sleep and breathe.
We often talk about our ‘agency family’ and it is just that – a professional family of like-minded souls, with shared values, history, interests and needs.
When we moved into our new studio, we had a bank of desks spare and we invited independent consultants, freelancers and micro businesses to consider renting some space. We quickly built up an extended family of people who just wanted to feel part of something and who didn’t want to work on their own, at home, in isolation.
Being with or near other human beings, who also want to get their heads down to do some good work, matters. So, while we love our families with all our hearts, we don’t really want to work in the same room as them. There’s a very good reason why most of us want some space between home and work and why we want to be different people in each of these different environments.
In future, we might work from home more when it suits us. Our accountants may want to reduce the size and cost of expensive office space, especially in big city centres. Sure, we may opt to Zoom instead of committing to a 2-3 hour journey for a routine meeting. But the office isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. And I for one, can’t wait for my colleagues to come back and join me.