WFH… WT*!

I was introduced by a friend to a Partner at a big 4 firm recently, I grabbed a coffee and settled in for an easy chat about our holidays and the price of beer. But no, he only wanted to talk about a webinar he’d just come off, he was highly exercised. Now, as regular readers of my blogs will know I’m pretty clever and quite funny but my new acquaintance was another level clever, sharp as a tack, super bright. He has a very clear view on the future of the Workplace, very clear. Whilst I didn’t agree with everything he said, one thing stuck in my mind, he said firms need to make decisions and be bold. I said, it does need to be the right decision, he looked at me with a “well of-course” face. I followed up with some ramble about decisions on WFH and workplaces are becoming increasingly emotive and nuanced. He was having none of that, “Be bold and make a decision” “Don’t try and find the longest grass to delay a decision” “The winners will be the ones who act…” It quickly went from a critique about landlords and property agents to me feeling under a verbal attack. Ouch !

Picking up the pieces of my ego off the floor, I had plenty of time to reflect on what he was saying, I am sure he was right. Putting off decisions until things look better appeared a vague strategy. I am sure I read that making a decision even a bad one, is better than not making one at all.

As I write I have just come off the weekly Deloitte Covid-19 webinar, which I would commend to you as your weekly C-19 data feast. Avoid all substitutes. It’s every Thursday and Ian Stewart, the Chief Economist dissects what’s what supported by a group of experts. A bit like Bake-Off, it’s my weekly guilty pleasure. This week (as every week) Ian takes a straw poll of market sentiment from the audience, 1500 business leaders and me. The desire to return to the office is still very high, only 7% are planning to never return.

So what does that mean for Working from Home (WFH)

Boris has confused many with a “let’s get back to work” and with a few weeks “oh no, home again…” I read an article from Hamish McRae who asked whether we will all still be loving working from home in 3 years. Will we see a sea-change like the demise of clerical jobs in the 80s? Clearly for firms reducing the demand for expensive office space is highly attractive, the downside of not working in teams, the serendipity of developing a company culture and identity is harder to quantify and its impact on the bottom line. I was in London on a Thursday lunchtime last week (the second time in 6 months) and it felt like a Sunday afternoon as I walked across London Bridge. Have cities been hollowed out for the long-term?

Ultimately it is efficiency that will drive decision making on our workplaces; how cheaply and well we can do things. How will work change permanently, I am not sure. That said, I am a complete convert to Teams, I hope I never return to conference calls where you never quite know who is on the call, whether people are really hanging on your every word. It doesn’t quite replace a face-to-face meeting over a cup of coffee but it is the next best thing. It only really falls down when you have more than 3 or 4 on a call but I love it. I said in a blog back in June that I thought, unfortunately, that a boom industry would be counselling. I think a lot of people have suffered from working or being at home for long periods. Often getting to a workplace is a sanctuary for many. More mundane but as important is that Covid has shown up the have and have nots in terms of technology, broadband connection and access to IT. If you are pixelated on a Teams, it’s not great. Although some people say that I look better pixelated.

I worried about our staff during this period but we have not found issues on training or career development over the past few months. We are about to announce a major promotion and this person’s performance if anything has accelerated during lockdown. He has shone.

Lastly, one thing that has become obvious to me is that people are a bit more disciplined since lockdown, meetings (Teams) always start on time, people are prepared. They rarely over-run. I think this has been a huge productivity gain and one that I am convinced will remain when we return to our workplace. I think the quality of our output is better and we respect our time with our colleagues, customers and partners. It’s a good thing about covid and a clear gain and there aren’t many of those.

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