I do feel for Office Managers and Heads of Facilities… Is home-working really fit for work purpose?

I had a coffee last month with an old friend and head of facilities of an insurance firm at a local coffee house. It was great to see him, properly face-to-face. As he put it.. “it’s a bit like the old days David..” I thought by the old days he meant March. He said decisions had never been harder for him as the conundrum of home working, maintaining a city office and clear comms to all stakeholders had slightly mashed him brain. He said a restart of sorts in September had really made things frenetic. I could only give him cold comfort but I picked up the coffee tab, it was the least I could do.

Back to the title of the blog, are they fit for working purpose? Do they have the right light, ventilation, noise, heat, internet connection amongst a host of other important factors that FM and Office Managers have to mull daily?

A few days later I was talking to a COO of a social housing organisation about how home working was working for her and she was definitely an advocate. It had in her words, been liberating, made her more efficient and each day she was cracking through more work. Well done her. She then mentioned something, which in classic David Leen fashion, started me on a thought process. She said and I am roughly quoting “Of course my company love it, I am paying for my own desk, coffee, internet and cleaning and I guess insurances” It was an off the cuff remark but it made me think about the short-to-mid term ramifications of home working but also the longer-term impacts and trends. I won’t mention the NN word, “new-norm” but as I stated in my last blog, it will be an evolution rather than a March to September revolution, won’t it ?? and as another friend said, wait for the weather to change. I think all of that is true and probably not true.

A workplace designer I know, said that people needed to reclaim their homes, by which he meant that no-one wants to stare at a desk, laptop and pile of papers 24/7 in their own home. Not everyone has a room that they can shut the door on. We have twin girls and my lovely home study with its black high gloss desk and twin screens is now a make-shift classroom, so off to the dining room for me. In the last few months I have gone back to our local office and it’s been great and not just for me but also my wife and children.

There has been a psychological shift in the way we see our home, it is both a physical but also a mental safe place, somewhere you can say “Ahhhh…..” and the world drifts away. Homes used to be places where you would eat, relax and sleep. Now we educate our children, work and manage illness recovery in them.

There is growing data that home working in densely populated towns and cities is a risk to your health. You are six times likely to die in a city than a rural location. Sobering. We’ve spent the years since the war pushing more and more people into smaller and smaller spaces both at work and at home. Now your home is your workplace what does that spell for the coming period? There is a natural conflict between affordable places to work and live, cost and health. You can’t square all the circles.

This is something that planning and design needs to build into their future thinking, more intelligent ways to provide healthier and disease-resistant environments to both live and work in. I’d love to say I have all the answers but what I do know to be true is that how we felt in March, June and today will be different again in 6 months’ time for most people. What does that really mean, I think for me it means that we need to not rush into the “NN” because it doesn’t exist but thinking, reflecting and challenging will provide the best answers, oh! And listening a lot to your family, friends and your own staff and colleagues.