I was talking to someone recently about the difference between working remotely or in an office. I said the phrase that I’ve heard many in PR say: “All I need is a smartphone and web access.”
Thinking about this I realised that it wasn’t quite the truth.
The smartphone is an important tool. I’m writing this post on it right now, I can catch up on the latest activity on social media, keep on top of emails, and manage my calendar to stay organised. The built-in camera is good enough for photography and with the addition of a directional mic and tripod I can get some decent video footage. I can of course also make phone calls!
From a tactical point of view, I’m well covered. But, it misses the fundamental benefits of a face to face relationship with colleagues.
I work in a team with a broad skill set and mix of personalities. Being in the same room provides a creative energy; we all bounce ideas off each other, give each other advice and support, and share in our successes (and when things sometimes go wrong!). You can easily get together, both formally and informally, and interact with the wider business.
When I worked in agency I hot-desked in client offices. This allowed for chance meetings, helped me to get a sense of the business culture and made me more visible and approachable. This helped me shorten the gap between being an external supplier to being a valued member of the team.
Building rapport and emotional connections is much easier face-to-face. So much of what we communicate is unspoken, with body language and facial expressions key to our understanding of meaning.
If I worked remotely all the time, I would lose the benefits of this interaction, and make my role more challenging.
However, a lot of time, energy and cost goes into commuting. It limits our ability to be flexible and balance our commitments at home. Being in an office can cause distractions. If I have a heavy day of writing ahead, I find working at home can be more effective. Studies also show that companies that are more flexible tend to have better staff engagement and retention.
The key then is balance. The serviced office space might offer a sign of the future. According to research by Savills, take up of serviced offices increased by more than 150% last year. One of the things offered by providers like WeWork is a hot-desk agreement – turn up whenever you want and there will be somewhere to sit. Shared working areas and meeting spaces are available.
Perhaps businesses can learn from this, offering employees a mix of both worlds; a shared basecamp to get together (smaller than a typical office but with a wider variety of spaces), but an understanding that time away is just as important, allowing a mix of practical working and relationship building.
Whether this is a future approach to work or not, it will take more than a smartphone to be successful.