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Is “Office Optional” the new “Work from Home”?

< 23 September 2019 >

Remote Working

A decade or so back, in the earliest days of digital collaboration, there was working in the office – and there was working from home.

Working from home was unusual, not legally mandated, and often seen as a bit of a concession – something you might offer to a parent or carer perhaps. The home worker would be expected to come in to the central office for meetings and other resources, and they were very much a satellite revolving around a distinct centre of gravity, rather than part of a wholly distributed system.

Of course this reflected the available technology, in the days when email was the default, video conferencing was a grand title for something that usually didn’t quite work, and every organisation tended to still have a big central building for everyone to gather within.

And the only ‘remote’ choice on offer was the home office – something which generally meant the employee sacrificing a room in their house, installing a new phone line for exclusive internet use (first dial-up, then ISDN, and finally true broadband), and providing a desk with big beige boxes on it.

Today, things could not be more different.

Once you liberate the notion of doing the work from a fixed location – by way of a combination of digital workflows, collaboration tools, and wireless connectivity – an abundance of alternatives present themselves. And it’s a real opportunity for everyone to consider their own needs, from both life and work – what fuels their intrinsic motivation, helps them find the dynamic balance between their various commitments and activities, and enables them to live their best life, both personally and professionally?

One person may love the peace of home-working but need to replace the social contact the old-style office brought them with regular community activities – while their colleague in the same role finds online social connections with others more than enough. Another might find the silence and solitude of working at home quite soul-destroying, and do far better taking their laptop to a nearby coffee-shop, where they don’t need to actually talk to other people all day, but simply gain energy from the bustle of their proximity.

Someone else might find the lack of structure inherent in home-working too distracting and challenging to their productivity and motivation, so prefer to take a desk in a local coworking centre – giving them access to specialist services like meeting rooms and maker spaces, as well as a ready-made cohort of ‘colleagues’ doing different work around them.

And yet others thrive on working anywhere, on anything – being galvanised by changes in their environment, loving the digital nomad lifestyle. While many can only do their best deep work in familiar and settled spaces, where everything is consistent and predictable.

Forward-looking HR and hiring managers are tuning into and exploring the different ways people work best, and working with them to create and incentivise a work contract which reflects the best balance of their needs in service of the organisation, and taking a more office-optional approach to accommodating new people.

Have they got a suitable space at home to use for work? Would they prefer budget for somewhere local instead? Maybe they’d do best hot-desking at HQ? Or some combination of all of the above.

When the right collaboration tools are in place, the future can be truly flexible – which is a win-win for everybody. The UC Summit 2020 will give you a chance to explore the very latest that the market has to offer, and see what’s right for you.



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