The only topic in business conversations now seems to be about plans for returning to the office. The much vaunted ‘hybrid’ model is being hotly debated whilst several of the big banks, notably Goldman Sachs and Barclays have decreed all staff be back at their desks full time.
Certainly, there seems to have been a sea change in the last couple of weeks away from companies saying it makes no difference where work is conducted to a growing realisation that real time collaboration is essential and should not be underplayed.
At Spider we have started the process of re-integrating colleagues who have not sat opposite each other for any length of time in 14 months. This will accelerate in the next few weeks. We are finally meeting new team members who have joined the company in the last year and yet have had no experience of our office community life. It is proving interesting as some of the more junior members have spent more time working at home than in an office environment. It is a mistake to underestimate the power of a chat with colleagues beside the water cooler.
However, there is a bigger issue that no one seems to be focused on. How are we going to run the business in a post-Covid world? If there are staff we haven’t met in person, there are as many clients who we have yet to meet. In the ‘old’ days we pitched in person and met at least once a month either at their place or ours. Relationships were established both in a work and social context. Will we go back to this model or will the power of Zoom be the new way to conduct meetings?
I carry no fondness for early morning meetings invariably on Euston Station clutching a Starbucks and climbing on a train with colleagues to travel long distances to meet a client in a far-flung town for a 2-hour meeting before returning to London late afternoon. How cosy and cost-effective is the new alternative way of doing things.
As seems likely, the ease at which one hopped on a flight whether to Europe and beyond is unlikely to be the norm anytime soon, not least for health and testing reasons. If you consider the cost and time this took in our previous lives, lockdown has proved such effort and investment was rarely justified.
That’s not to say we aren’t looking forward to properly meeting our clients, but the way ahead will be one where we mutually decide whether or not it is essential to meet in person.
We are luckier than most because we own our building, the Spider House, so we did not have the need to review its worth. But I happen to think having a ‘hub’ is going to be invaluable and those who have jumped on the bandwagon to downsize their office space, may well regret it in the months ahead. Rather like our decision not to furlough staff paid dividends by always having a full team, so having an office where the whole team can meet and grow together is vital in our opinion.
Sara Pearson – Founder and Chairman