Of course the great remote revolution of 2020 is without precedent, and nobody has a crystal ball. But we do have past events to refer back to.
I knew a number of businesses who took the step of closing an office following the 2008 financial crisis, simply because the renewal of a lease would have tipped them over a limit financially. They shifted to home-based working on what was agreed to be a temporary basis — let’s get through this, then we’ll find a new office and get ‘back to normal’.
However, in my small survey sample, not one of those businesses ever did go back to renting a centralised office — a decade on, they’re all still 100% remote. That doesn’t mean their leadership team was deliberately deceptive about their future plans, simply that those plans changed.
Within the team I know best, a boutique PR firm, several senior people have since relocated a long way from London just because they realised they could, and collectively they solved the technical collaboration challenges that they faced to at the time (and this was a decade ago when the tools we take for granted were less available, harder to run, and more expensive overall).
Changing where they worked, and how they worked
They still work with lots of London-based clients who they visit whenever required, and meet in posh private clubs and business centres if not going to their client’s offices. None of them has ever felt the lack of a central location — even those whose commute involves a long train ride from the West Country can cluster their meetings into one day a week and enjoy all their chosen lifestyle benefits the rest of the time. They also now work with clients further afield, and no one would dream of expecting them to open and maintain a branch office in each city within which they operate.
Alongside these benefits their hiring has become more diverse, allowing them to engage experienced senior consultants on a part-time basis, who would never consider returning to the commuter rat-race. They are able to reward their loyal and dedicated team competitively, not least as they’re no longer pouring out a substantial overhead on a groovy rental in Shoreditch.
But I remember when they first took the decision to leave their Eastside hotspot there was considerable objection and regret from certain quarters, and even a minor amount of attrition — involving one mature administrator who went to work in someone else’s office, and a junior executive who feared her career would not progress as fast or effectively if she wasn’t visible around the city at events and venues. I wasn’t able to contact that individual for comment, though her LinkedIn profile suggests a steady and successful career with a global PR brand, so I am sure she would regard herself as having made the right move for her in the moment. In the absence of a control group, who is to say — it was a courageous decision to leave a happy role for pastures new at a difficult economic time.
The main thing is, she had a choice, and she exercised it. Choice being the one thing that many people were lacking in 2020
So, if you’re reading this far (thank you) and are still waiting for me to tell you that it’s going to be OK, that working from home will be better for you despite the fact you had no option, then I’ll do my best to persuade you of some of the upsides.
And if you’re worried that it might turn out to be for longer than you are currently being told, you’re probably right, it’s highly likely to be. But if you can make homeworking work for you — and I will help you to do that as much as I possibly can through this book series — then you can enjoy multiple benefits at different levels.
Excerpt from “Out Of The Office: Making The Transition To Working From Home”, book 1 in the healthy happy homeworking series