Get Back to Where We Once Belonged

Why the office still matters, and why I’m looking forward to going back

This week sees one of the bigger events in the Octopus Group annual social calendar. Sadly, it’s not our annual festival, Roctostock. Or even drinks in our local after a company meeting. Instead, it’s a pretty mundane thing that actually means an awful lot.

We’re going back to the office.

We’ve been away from our Grays Inn Road home since mid-March, after a last minute clean up and clear out before we mothballed the mothership. Since then, it’s been Zoom, Teams, Workplace and Slack, with all the attendant jitters and distanced cries of ‘you’re on mute, Billy’ those entail. Along with the occasional phone call (remember them?) and one socially distanced meet up in Hyde Park.

As for many of you, our experience has been… mixed.

While we’ve perhaps benefitted from a little realignment of the office/home balance, we’ve also noticed that the best part of what we do struggles a little when we’re not together. So, here’s three things I’m looking forward to about going back:

1. Let’s bounce


 
No, not ping pong. Something even more important than that.

Ideas.

We’ve tried Mural. We’ve done the Zoom brainstorm. We’ve even won a fair few pitches without being in the same postcode as each other, let alone the same room.

Basically, we’ve given the virtual thing a good go. But there’s no getting around the fact that creativity, ideation and collaboration suffer a bit when things are done virtually, rather than in person.

And it’s not actually the scheduled brainstorm and ideation sessions that matter. Rather it’s those chats, chance meetings and ad hoc conversations around the office where we bounce ideas around, find fun ways to solve a problem, or create the sparks that give life to campaigns.

This blog from socially responsible property developers, Stories, talks about the value of unstructured time and learning. Those moments between tasks and jobs that aren’t work you can mark down on a timesheet, and yet are so much more valuable for it.

As part of our Creative team, it resonated with me massively. I’ve hugely missed the chatter and noise around our pod – the whirring of a few smart minds at work that means projects are evolving and we’re working together on creative, fun ideas.

And yes, I’ve missed the ping pong.

2. A finer balance


 
It’s probably true that the home/office balance was a bit off. As people and businesses, we invested in a lot of technology to aid remote working, then spent 95% of our time away from it.

But many of us are increasingly finding that constant WFH has swung things too far the other way. The excellently named Chip Cutter from the Wall Street Journal looked at businesses where the allure of home working has waned over the past few months, and how they’re going about redressing the balance.

The thing is that it’s different strokes for different folks. While we hear (and write) a lot about the hybrid approach to working life that’s emerging, determining the right split is going to take a little time. And it’ll more than likely depend on the nature of your job and what kind of WFH set up you have (if you have one at all).

For me personally, I’m excited to recover some of the balance between remote and office. In part, this chimes with my point about ideation and collaboration. But it’s also about creating a dividing line between work life and life life.

It’s all too easy to re-open the laptop in the evening to tinker with an idea, work on a piece of copy, finesse some design work, or compose a grumpy email that you’ll later think better of and delete. Leaving the office at the end of the day remains the best way to put work to bed until the next morning.

3. All you good good people


 
It’s trite to say the people are the best thing about your workplace, right? But what about when it’s actually true?

Over the past couple of years, OG has worked hard to create a social, fun place to work. And although 2020 has seen an almost equal amount of work go into finding ways to be social and engaged digitally, a Friday beer over video chat is always going to be a novelty rather than an embedded part of company life.

The other thing is that remote working leads to siloes. If you’re not careful you can end up dealing with a handful of colleagues from your immediate team and those you’re on projects with.

Offices by their nature encourage interaction, connection and friendship between people who don’t work together all that much – particularly important for smaller business like ours, where knowing your neighbours makes for a healthy working environment.

This year has shown that sharing a space matters to a whole lot of people, for a whole lot of reasons. So while we can question the purpose of the office and how much time we spend there, to me its value as a home for a business is higher than ever.

Also, I left my Bluetooth speaker in ours.

Find out how we’ve been learning and developing during lockdown in our Brand to Sales Academy.