I sit here and gaze out into my back garden through the study window, watching the bright blue-sky fade on what has been a glorious warm spring day. In my small study, I have been tapping away at my keyboard catching up on all manner of work across a myriad of systems. Managing a systems upgrade, extracting data for reports and updating the CRM system before finally indulging in some creativity by writing this article.
The thought crept across my mind how pretty much everything I had done today, would have been impossible to do from my warm study just 15 years ago. Back then, we simply didn’t have the means to “jump on” to the corporate IT systems from home. If I needed to work, I really had to be in the office to do that. Yes, there were very rudimentary ways it could be achieved, through a clunky dial-up connection on a 56k modem. But it was unreliable … and cumbersome.
Over the last few years, everything I wished for has come true. The office technology experience can be faithfully replicated from the comfort of our own homes. Dual screens, lightning fast connections, video calls … all there and instantly available.
But if replicating that office experience is so easy, why have we insisted on only replicating it to a degree? The technology has been available for at least five years, so have we been reticent to fully embrace homeworking for other reasons?
Plush office space that can seat hundreds still adorns our city centres whilst the train stations are packed with commuters every morning and evening (at least they were in normal circumstances). That led me to contemplate: what are the reasons we still congregate in these offices and more importantly, will we continue to do so? Can we emulate the office experience with remote working technology?
Whilst technology has facilitated remote working, I do get the sense that the collegiate nature of the professional services industry means that many have found it easier “to get the job done” when sitting in close proximity to colleagues and the leadership team. Being able to instantly bounce an idea off a colleague or sound out the boss is easy when you’re in the same room, and of course, there is an element of “trust” if you can see what people are doing. There is also good old office banter that can liven up many a dull day.
I would argue though, that the new world is helping us develop our ability to carry out these social activities through technology platforms that we previously saw as social barriers.
I think we have reached the point of no return and the “Inevitable” a few years ago is now with us.
Take Microsoft Teams for example. A messaging tool that allows us to chat, emoji and gif our colleagues so we can really express what we’re trying to say. What though if we really need a face to face conversation? No problem, we just hit the video call button. ..and once we get over the initial experience of video calls instead of in-person conversations, it all starts to feel very natural.
That’s where I think we failed before. The tech was there but we had… options. We didn’t need to become accustomed to video calls and instant messaging because we didn’t have to. But now … now it’s all changed. We’ve become accustomed to Team meetings and Zoom conferences. The previously camera shy now turn up for a morning video call like they’re walking through the office with their Starbucks in hand, greeting their colleagues with a relaxed good morning as they get down to business.
On top of that – there is no commute, no expensive city centre parking charges and we’re sat with the kids one minute after we shut down the laptop. We’ve discovered a new way… and been given the time to appreciate it. When we eventually exit lockdown, I envisage an inevitable change: smaller offices, remote working as a way of life, a wave of technology innovation. Firms who have never really embraced technology may find a seat on the board for their technical advisor.