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Home-working. Is this the future?

Posted by Simon Parke, 19 January 2021, 10.39am

What are your feelings about working from home? Are you missing the office? Or delighted to be away?

Some of those I work with, like nurses and doctors, would like to see a great deal less of their work place currently. The ‘luxury’ of home-working is not available.

While one commuter is enjoying being given back his twenty hours of travel every week. ‘I can’t believe the extra time it gives me!’

But others, working eight hours a day on laptops in their bedrooms, may like to see more of the office; and more particularly, their friends there.

‘The office relationships are what make work worthwhile for me. Team meetings on Zoom are not the same.’

And if the human solidarity of office life is one of the victims of home-working, is creativity another?

Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, spoke about this last year. ‘Exposure to new and different experiences — sounds, smells, environments, ideas, people — is a key source of creative spark,’ he said. ‘Homeworking can starve us of many of these creative raw ingredients — the chance conversation, the new person or idea or environment. Homeworking means serendipity is supplanted by scheduling, face-to-face by Zoom.’

For many, it seems, the office - formerly the butt of jokes and source of so much frustration - has suddenly become a paradise lost, which leaves Professor Rehn unimpressed. 

“We love it when we don’t have it any longer. For years we complained about coming to the office, now we are free from the office, we complain.’

And that’s true, of course; and a typical human response to life: our struggle to be happy with what is; the tendency to find the grass greener in the next door field.

And some companies have tried to get round the ‘creativity thing’ with techy replacements for casual encounters.

But Paul Levy, senior lecturer at Brighton Business School, is sceptical about attempts to create virtual serendipitous spaces, such as ‘lounges’ or ‘break out rooms’ at online conferences.

‘Whenever we try to design spontaneity in the digital world, we lose the serendipity because we designed it. I very much doubt we will ever discover an algorithm for serendipity.’

So there are questions ahead for organisations when this is all over. Office space is expensive; but is it also priceless?

Is it possible that all the tech in the whole-wide-world cannot replace the chance encounter by the coffee machine?

Or the smile across the room?

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