Last September (pre-Covid19), both the London and the New York teams spent time on a retreat to re-establish who we were as a business, where we were going and cementing how we work as a team. One of the topics that came to the fore was around creating a great place to work and, specifically the role of flexibility in that. It feels particularly relevant now, as the boundaries between home and work life have become increasingly blurred.
It feels necessary to caveat that whilst we navigate what it means to become a modern and pioneering business internally, we’re under no illusions that we’ve ‘cracked it’. This is very much a process that we will continue to undertake over a period of time. We speak so much and so passionately to our clients about creating a positive and ultimately transformative culture internally, it feels appropriate to be candid and upfront about our own experience.
By ‘flexibility’, at the time we meant working from home, working the hours that are appropriate and most productive for you as the individual. Relieving the guilt of quickly picking your kid up from nursery and then logging back in once they’ve gone to bed, or creeping three minutes over your contracted lunch hour so that you can squeeze in a shower after a lunchtime spin class, or working from home because the prospect of cramming yourself onto the Northern Line with the rest of South London is all a bit too much. All things we now hope will signal return to normality, and all the things that contribute to us being more well-rounded, clear-thinking and functioning human beings. With the premise being that if we can function better as humans, we are better creators, thinkers and doers.
With the current situation, there’s so much more that we need to explore as part of this. Like, where is the appropriate intersection between an employer and an employee’s mental health? What will the future workplaces physically look like, and are we cantering down one road without thinking through the psychological implications of working remotely? How can we reconcile different people’s preferences for how they work? Music, no music? Open plan or behind closed doors? Introvert or extrovert? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…
One of the major challenges that we grappled with at our retreat, was how you balance the desire for, the convenience and undeniable benefits of flexible working with the business need (yes, we think it’s a ‘need’ to create the best work) for community and relationship. Ultimately – how we can build a working culture where everyone is fully empowered to deliver their best work in a way that works for them, whilst also having absolute trust with our colleagues. Trust that comes from riding the ups and the downs of working together. In the big moments and the small ‘what-shall-we-have-for-lunch?’ ones.
We’ve adopted a number of different apps and platforms to help us to work more collaboratively, communicatively and efficiently. And these do go some way in building our workplace community – they bring a level of informality and humour into how we work. But that humour can only truly be expressed and understood when you know the person who’s delivering it. The nuance is lost if you’ve not spent time with them face-to-face.
The atmosphere in the London office when we returned from the retreat changed. There was a real buzz. People were refreshed and motivated. People’s passion projects started to bubble to the surface. We were invigorated and the output of work stepped up. If that time away has taught us anything, it’s that there’s remarkable value in working with people that you know, like and relate to. The question is, how can we now maintain that level of momentum remotely?
As I said at the start of this, unfortunately we don’t have the answer yet. And it’s only through time, trial and error that we’ll start to work out what works for us and what we can learn from other’s attempts.
So a question for the floor as we start to navigate this ourselves: how do you think business can balance the individual’s desire for flexibility with the business need for genuine and human collaboration?