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No more empty desks

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Chairman's Blog

> No more empty desks

Nothing beats the buzz of a lively office. The chatter of colleagues. The dynamic presentations in meeting rooms. The tea rounds and sharing of treats. It all contributes to the culture – the very lifeblood – of a business.

The problem is that, for many businesses, the office is no longer a hive of activity. The “working from home” revolution has taken its toll. I’ve visited a few businesses in recent months where the majority of people now work remotely. The offices were so quiet. One that used to hold 70 people over two floors now only had four colleagues in the building; it was uncanny.

In January 2020, just 5.7% of people worked from home, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Today, almost one in five workers is home-based.

The problem is that you need your team to come together in real life in order to make a good business great. I truly believe that. Video conferencing technology and messaging apps have their place, but there is no substitute for a good, old-fashioned chin wag with a colleague. That’s how bonds are formed, how friendships blossom, and how the best ideas are born.

There’s no way that I could have built BigChange into the international success story you see today without an office. In those early days, we were constantly meeting to brainstorm new ideas, pulling late-nighters to implement ideas, and celebrating afterwards with pizzas and pasta. We were a small team, but we were all driven and enthusiastic – a big family. Many of those individuals are still with BigChange today.

I really feel for start-up founders launching businesses in 2022. There is pressure to be “remote first”, but you sacrifice so much in terms of culture and, dare I say it, it’s just less fun. I think of start-up life as being a Premier League team. You go out to face your rivals and play your hearts out every day. But when you all work from home, it’s like playing to an empty stadium. There’s no atmosphere.

I know that home working is the preferred choice for some. But let’s remember how isolating that can be for a lot of people. How are young starters supposed to learn from more experienced peers when those individuals are never in the office? It’s so much harder to ask questions when you can’t just go tap someone on the shoulder.

We form some of our most important relationships at work. I’m sure people reading this have at least a few friendships that were forged in an office environment. According to one global LinkedIn study on working relationships, 46% of professionals believe that work friends are integral to their overall happiness, boosting productivity and engagement levels.

It’s so much harder to set boundaries when working from home. When does the day start and end? There’s no delineation. Many people don’t have a dedicated workspace and end up emailing from kitchen tables or bedrooms, which is bad for mental health and stress levels. 

There are just so many reasons why, for many companies, office-based working makes sense. A recent ONS study found that 21% of employed people never want to work from home again, with young people, in particular, preferring office life. I believe that most employees should come into the office at least three to four days a week. That’s a balance that works. 

I know that progress will be gradual. You can’t just summon all your employees back into the office. But let’s all start encouraging our people back in. Offer them incentives: free fruit or takeaway Fridays, a bonus for attending the office. 

Bring back the buzz and dynamism that helps the UK economy thrive. 

Martin Port

3rd November 2022

BigChange

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