For many industries, including Architecture, one of the big questions this period has raised and possibly also helped to answer is one of flexibility - Is it really possible and is it beneficial? The jury is still out on this and views very much vary. One thing that is certain, more and more candidates not only want, but pretty much demand that they must have at least some work flexibility.
What does it mean for you, the employer, if you ignore this fact and assume things will return to as before? Well, whilst already battling with a skills shortage, you are likely to miss out on at least another 50% of very talented individuals. Inevitably, if you can’t resource and service your clients and maintain the quality you promise…I don’t think I need to point out the consequences.
Seeking flexibility doesn’t mean being lazy. In my own experience, I felt I was working even harder because the only way a line manager could tell if I was actually working at home was through my output – I had to have something to show for it. Conversely, whilst working from the office if I’m at my desk and on my computer it is perceived that I am at the very least doing some sort of work. The question of whether I am working more efficiently is not necessarily considered. If you haven’t heard of presenteeism before, I suggest you look into it – it really is a thing. Working remotely should in theory, eliminate the need for presenteeism.
Having said that, have I found working from home healthy? The short answer is no. At first it was great, I automatically thought I've gained 3 hours a day back. But, quickly the stress became too much. Home became work and I would find myself working more hours than I had ever worked before. I began to quickly hate technology and in particular - my laptop. Ok so I found a new strategy and placed my laptop at the back of my cupboard where I couldn’t see it by 6pm each evening and refused to open it before 8am. But still, the divide between work and home became very blurry. Whilst my husband casually got on with work all day, I’d get easily distracted with non-work related thoughts and tasks. It really wasn’t working for me….I needed separation and my mind alone wasn't enough to provide it for me.
The problem was, I didn’t and still don’t ever want to go back to the office full time. I eat a lot healthier (homemade of course), and I exercise a whole lot more than I used to do. Instead of walking across busy roads with hundreds of cars and cyclists, I walk across green fields and settle my mind. Instead of rushing here and there and spending a little too much money on my morning coffee, I have a lovely coffee at home with my husband. The three hour a day travel, even though I lived in London and my office was in London on the same tube line, is something I never want to do again. When asked by my family (not in London) how I do it, I used to say that I enjoy it and it gives me time to read – Now I just read before bed and it’s not too dissimilar and more enjoyable.
No, no, no – no to ever having to work in the office all day every day and make that ridiculous travel (not good for the environment anyway) just so that I could be seen working from the office. Ok, I don’t work home anymore – it doesn’t work for me. But I have three cafés with great internet all within walking distance to me that I alter from each day and work from. I get to see people so it’s a little less lonely, I get nice coffee, decent music (better than what I would pick), no distractions and, I can simply just walk home for lunch. It’s great. Home has become home again and a nice setting for me has become work.
So, what of the office?
Well – it’s not really fair that I never go to the office again. I was fortunate to have learnt from some great people. I had sessions when they would sit with me and teach me things and answer questions I had but the majority of my learning came from simply observing, overhearing conversations, being nosey about what others were doing and so on. This just isn’t possible with remote working – at least I don’t think it is. That means, it’s really not fair to younger and aspiring professionals to not give them that same valuable experience that many of us had. It's also nice to work with my colleagues and catch up properly, it's totally different meeting face-to-face - I think it's important for the culture of a company and also for myself, I can come home and add something new to our family evening chats.
If someone gave me a choice, I probably wouldn’t ever choose to go back to the office. If someone said I needed to go back to the office at least 2-3 days a week – I wouldn’t contest this – it sounds sensible and fair, it doesn’t inconvenience me too much and, well it is nice to have a good relationship with those I work with and, there is never a day where I can’t learn something new. I also think I would probably regret at some point spending the majority of the rest of my life within a 1 mile radius of my home with pretty much the same people every day.
Let’s learn from the tech industry. They’re always fighting to attract the best talent and that’s led to them being ahead of the game in creating work cultures where staff are productive, creative, committed and generally – happy. They also introduced flexible and remote working way before the pandemic – it’s not new to them. That means, they’ve probably mastered it proving to be a great industry to conduct some research and figure out the best policy for your own company and staff. Don’t close your candidate pool to a tiny market percentage if you don’t need to, open it up and make sure you are positioned to attract the best. Might I add that employees are your most valuable assets and the key to a good company and happy client is having skilled, motivated and engaged employees?
Here are my two last notes to both candidates and employers.
Work out your post-pandemic working arrangements now – are you going to offer flexibility, what kind of flexibility and does it work for everyone – both more junior and more senior members? Once you figure this out – make it very clear and promote it!
If you are not offering any kind of flexibility – think long and hard why and also make this clear. Why waste your time or anyone else’s who might just hold on to some hope that you might offer them that little bit of flexibility?
You might also want to think about getting your staff involved in this decision early on. To help explain why...
'I have no idea what my company's post-pandemic plans are but one thing I know is, if they ask me to go back to the office more than 3 times a week, I will be reaching out to look for a new job.'
Keep an open mind and be realistic. It’s always been fair to ask for flexibility – it’s a legal right in fact and no longer just something typically females require. I guess with this post, it's clear that I'm all for it. But, be open-minded and remember that when you work for a company, you’re working for and as part of a team – it’s not just you. A company needs to make decisions about what is best for the company and all staff, not just individual members. You must remember that everyone’s situation is different, London is an expensive place to live and many have different situations at home. Be open minded and work with your team, not against them.
If you were to employ someone, what would you expect of them? A successful business equals a secure job for you. We must work together to find mutual ground and so, you should be prepared to work with your team to find a balance that works for everyone. We learn best from people in the end and this information exchange, that at best comes naturally, is critical for us not just as professionals, but generally as inherently social beings.
Yes, I think hybrid working is the way forward and the way we are headed – I hope.