Does your business cater to the individual needs of your employees? Matt Storey, partner at The White Storey, asks the question
Remember when people used to say – “They’re ‘working from home’ today”– book-ending the phrase with bunny ears and implying the individual concerned was, in fact, skiving off – lolling on the sofa, binge-watching Homes Under the Hammer?
Now of course it’s gone full circle: Remote working has become the norm in most industries, driven by the twin demands of millennials’ expectations of flexibility and business owners’ need to control their overheads. The other day I read that Deloitte’s London hub has 5,500 desks even though 12,500 people have access to the building. Clearly a pretty fluid workforce.
And having just opened our own office, I’m looking to design not just an attractive place for everyone to sit, but a means of bonding a necessarily agile group of people.
There’s got to be a whole branch of industrial psychology devoted to researching workplace environments. Someone has already discovered the optimum organisational unit size (it’s 153, if you’re interested) but there must be data somewhere on the ideal conditions for peak human performance.
Looking around, it seems that the old management-worker business models can’t attract top talent anymore, and some of the remote working alternatives aren’t doing brilliantly at keeping them either. We haven’t quite figured out where our people should be.
There are plenty of options: The Googles of this world are building gyms and restaurants – creating the kind of lifestyle hubs where people want to hang out beyond the nine-to-five norm.
But for more modest SMEs, home-based working affords maximum flexibility, in theory at least. One snag, though, is that not everyone has the ideal domestic set-up. The first time the cat plods across your keyboard is endearing, but preparing a business pitch during half term with no childcare provision will shred the creative thought process. Just when you’d like to be able to bounce some ideas around with the team, you have to concentrate while someone significantly younger bounces off the walls and furniture.
And yes, obviously, digital communication removes the need for colleagues to occupy the same physical space. We can Skype and Zoom at will. Even so, one of our team recently summed it up perfectly when he admitted that he still needs “somewhere to go to work”.
Communal hired spaces like WeWork could be the answer. But where does its promise of a harmonious and welcoming community leave your own businesses’ sense of cohesion?
Nobody understands the need for human contact better than event professionals; it’s what our industry was built on, after all. The importance of fostering camaraderie amongst a group of people who may very well be working flat-out through the night together can’t be understated. Not only that, we also need that face-to-face interaction so we can throw ideas around and make collective decisions. It’s only when we’re all in the same room at the same time that we get down to shaping our collective future.
So, our team have agreed on a compromise. Those of us living North of Watford work remotely; one or two of us will be based at the London office and we’ll all get together at least one day a week.
Potential for abuse? Perhaps. Or maybe not. Recently I popped into the office at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning – to discover one of our team at his desk. He’d had a football match cancelled so thought he might as well come in and finish a project.
Nobody asked him to; he’s just totally embedded in the culture of our business. Which means that if he, or anyone else, says: “Can I come in late tomorrow?” it won’t warrant a second thought.
And that, to my mind, is what the business model of the future should look like. Give everyone a sense of belonging and cater to their individual needs.
As an industry we claim to understand our clients inside out. Isn’t it time we accorded the same respect to our people?