EOW Reflections 18/08/2023

Yesterday the team at Department of Business and Trade, to which the Office of the Small Business Commissioner is attached, at ‘Arm’s Length’, had an awayday. Just to be clear, taxpayers’ money was perfectly safe here. Going ‘away’ for the day involved moving a mile down the road into someone else’s office for the afternoon and eating kindly donated biscuits and chocolates while discussing important issues and sharing ideas. And it was great to meet all those people, in 3D, whom we have met only online for the past couple of years.

When you meet people for real it reminds you of just how ‘flat’ meeting online can be. There really is something to be said for the third dimension and it’s to do with the warmth, enthusiasm and depth that people give off when you are standing or sitting next to them.

In the meantime, this week the debate around WFH stepped up a notch when one of the main facilitator of home meetings, Zoom, demanded employees return to the office. Everyone’s WFH where possible at least part of the time and bosses are trying to cajole us back into the office. There are all sorts of reasons given, such as those above) but the main problem seems to be that ‘they’ simply don’t trust us to work when they can’t see us.

Well, you’ve caught me out. I’ve just rebandaged the dog’s leg and now I’m prevaricating instead of getting on with that article for Elite 100 business website. I am even considering making another cup of coffee.

I am not trying to avoid work. I am not less productive. These things are multi-layered and nuanced. Even with a bandage and scissors in my hand I’m thinking about all those aspects of my job that require thinking about. What I’m not doing is sitting in the office or a meeting imagining the dog suppurating to death from a small cut while I should be working.

I’ve been at my desk since 8am instead of standing on a packed train breathing in germs. That’s a late start for me but it is Friday and I won’t be planning for how early I can leave the office to avoid the worst of the rush hour.

I do miss that physical interaction with other people sometimes but it’s easy to get sidetracked into discussions about – well – dogs, parents, children, instead of getting on with the day’s work. I find it much harder to concentrate in a noisy open plan office than in the sanctuary of my home office with the dog at my feet even when the cat is snoring opposite me. But I’m lucky and not everyone has that luxury of space and helpful, attentive animals, and others do prefer and find they can work better in a busy workplace.

The OSBC team seems to be finding a workable solution. We meet online regularly. We talk things over wherever we are and we communicate. People come into the office when they judge the issues being dealt with could be handled better in-person.

I don’t see any reduction in productivity. Productivity isn’t just about doing the job it’s about generating ideas, having inspiring conversations, meeting people from other teams (online or in person), reading, discuss issues arising. Productivity thrives on wellbeing and empowerment, which in turn depend on having time to think, imagine, dream. We can fill every waking hour with work and get nothing done, in the office or at home.

We need to find the right balance for people. Ask them what they need, what they want and what they think would improve their workplace. Find a hybrid balance that also allows flexibility if possible. Make the workplace an attractive place to be. People will chose to come into the office when it suits them best to experience that warmth and depth and enthusiasm when they feel they need a top up. Trust people to get on with the job and they deliver. If you don’t, they will go to work for someone who does.