Working from home is the future we have, but is it the future we want?
For a lot of people the answer is yes, but Steve Bloom says no.
Who Is Steve Bloom?
Steve Bloom is a Stanford University economist who, like most of the rest of us, is working from home. We’re not really sure what he’s working on but if you’re an economist at one of the world’s premier educational institutions it’s likely that it’s serious stuff requiring deep thought and Zen-like levels of focus and concentration.
The truth is we know almost nothing about Steve Bloom but our guess is that he lives in a big house and his home office is an impressive set-up but there’s trouble chez Bloom. Every half an hour his four-year old daughter bursts in and asks if he can come out into the garden and play and his two older children, courtesy of gifts from their Scottish maternal grandparents, are self-learning the bagpipes.
That’s why Steve Bloom doesn’t want to work from home.
The irony here of course is that in 2015, Steve Bloom published a report finding that Chinese call-centre staff who worked from home were 13% more productive than those in a control group because they took fewer breaks and made more telephone calls per minute. They were also happier and were less likely to quit their job.
What About The Rest Of Us?
Whether we like it or not, we are having to embrace 2020s buzz-phrase – a ‘new normal.’
For Chris Herd, the founder & CEO of Firstbase, a supplier and manager of the physical equipment remote teams need to work from home, ‘remote work isn’t a new way of working, it’s a new way of living…’
As profound a soundbite as that might be, he may well have a point, and it’s clear from his opening salvo that he’s no fan of office-based work. He wants to…
‘… Unshackle people from sitting in a pollution-emitting metal box for two hours a day commuting to a distraction factory adult kids club where you waste your days not doing anything and padding out an eight hour day before you go home and have no time left.’
And there are people at the top of the food chain who are beginning to come round to the Herd mentality.
Jes Staley, Group CEO of Barclays said that ‘The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past’.
‘Maybe we don’t need all the offices we have around the world’ said Dirk van der Put, the Chairman and CEO of Mondelez International who own brands you may have heard of including Cadbury, Nabisco, Oreo, Ritz, Toblerone, Milka, Philadelphia, Halls, Trebor and Trident and who employs 90,000 people.
Jim Collins, CEO of biotech and agriscience company Corteva said that he has ‘been so much more connected to 20,000 employees in the last six weeks’ than he has in the previous six months and Salil Parekh, MD & CEO of Indian tech behemoth Infosys who have almost 250,000 people on the payroll sees very little need for his staff to rush back, predicting that many would remain WFH permanently.
Even Sir Martin Sorrell of Saatchi and WPP fame said that he found working from home ‘energising’ and expected it to herald a ‘permanent change’ in his working practices. ‘I spend around £35m on property a year, I’d much rather invest that in people.’
So Why, According To Chris Herd, Is WFH Better Than WFO For Employees?
O is for office, right? You got that of course.
In that space of eight weeks (even though for some it feels like eight million years) we have moved businesses out of offices and into spare bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens and for most of us it’s been relatively smooth sailing. Kids and dogs disturbing Zoom calls has quickly become an accepted and embraced part of the day and no-one cares what you’re wearing.
Hundreds of millions of people have realised how much easier it is to do great work quicker when you’re not in an office which in turn is going to make it very hard for some to go back to the office, if indeed there’s an office to go back to. Here’s why.
First off, it’s worth saying that there are advantages to being in an office and there are lots of people who rely on the office environment for their daily social interactions and their friends. The difference being is that most things that are true for the office are also true (to a greater or lesser extent) for home working and the benefits of remote work aren’t typically available to office workers.
Quality of Life You have the freedom to organise work around your life rather than the other way around. Work when it suits over being forced to sit from 9-5 any day.
Trust You are being trusted to do your best work rather than appealing to the fragile ego of a pointless middle manager who justifies his or her existence by micro-managing, coming down like a ton of bricks on errors, never praising you and taking credit for everything you do and every idea you have.
Control & Flexibility Is it time for you to take control of your working day? Yes it is. When the time comes, you can take your kids to school, get to appointments or take the dog for a walk without asking permission. Working when you are most productive rather than being prescribed a singular approach to working is a far healthier way to do things.
Balance Much has been made of the issues surrounding remote working and mental health and you can read a thousand articles on it from all angles but ultimately, having the time to do the things you love with the people you want to do them with will improve your mental health, happiness and general wellbeing.
Autonomy As a manager if you’re in a position to get out of the way and trust your guys to get the job done, do it. They will thank you for it.
Remote working has opened up a whole new world for lots of people. Notwithstanding the benefits to quality of life, it has allowed people to work who can’t physically work in – or get to – an office.
There are real human stories that have had a massive and lasting impact on people’s happiness, mental health and well-being.
So Why, According To Chris Herd, Is WFH Better Than WFO For Businesses?
Chris Herd suggests that companies who embrace the ‘new normal’ will dominate the 2020s and the benefits for businesses are equally as obvious as they are for their staff.
The first and most obvious benefit is the amount of money saved.
Cold Hard Cash What are known as ‘office-first’ companies spend approximately £14,900 per workplace, per person. For a 100-person company, that’s as near as makes no difference £1.5m a year (not including salary, benefits, perks etc).
For a top-class remote set-up it costs approximately £2,500 per workplace, per person. For the same company, that £1.5 million outlay comes down to £250,000. For the mathematically illiterate, that’s an annual saving of £1,250,000 per 100 workers.
Talent Office-first companies will hire the best possible person they can afford from within (usually) a 20-30-mile radius disqualifying them from almost everyone else. Remote teams can hire the best possible person from the pool of everyone from anywhere.
First-Mover Advantage In the next 18 months, businesses who offer remote working as the norm will hoover up talent from their competitors and have very low attrition rates and 3-5 years from now will be thriving. Those who don’t, won’t.
The age of the office isn’t over. It’s absurd to think that the commercial property sector will be wiped out but as businesses and as humans, we have to accept that things are going to be different to what they once were and we are going to have to adapt.
In what ways and for how long, who knows?
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