Business and Professional Services Insights
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Head of Business and Professional Services
James Morris, Head of Business and Professional Services at Barclays Corporate Banking sat down for a (virtual) fireside chat with guest Christine Armstrong, renowned writer and speaker on issues relating to the future of work, exploring how firms can successfully navigate their way to this new way of working.
James and Christine discuss how firms can manage the impact of the return to work on individuals and support staff, whether they’re in the office or adopting to hybrid working.
00:00:00 Christine Armstrong
My prediction is that one of the things that good employers are going to really focus on in the next year or 18 months is how to reinstate some boundaries between work and home life.
00:00:14 James Morris
Welcome to the first episode of this Barclays podcast series on successfully and safely returning employees to the office post Covid-19. I’m James Morris and I run our business and professional services team here at Barclays.
With government restrictions being increasingly relaxed, return of staff to offices is gathering pace whether firms expect their employees to return to the office full time or whether they are looking to implement a hybrid working model, they have plenty of issues to consider. From preparing a physical safe environment to managing and supporting the psychological impacts of employees and managing the cultural implications of hybrid working, over the course of this series we will explore how firms can successfully navigate their way to this new way of working.
In this first episode I’m delighted to be joined by Christine Armstrong, renowned writer and speaker on issues relating to the future of work. To explore how firms can manage the impact of the return to work for individuals and support staff, whether they’re in the office or adopting hybrid working. Christine, welcome.
Thanks for having me James.
Christine, I thought I would start by asking if you could just give us a bit of background on yourself and your expertise in this area.
Thanks James, so I’m a researcher by training and I spent the whole of lockdown and Covid tracking all of the data about how we’re working, our response to working remotely, how that’s impacted people in different markets and also doing interviews across lots and lots of different companies about how they’re getting on in law firms, big accountancies, management consultancies and a lot more to understand the real day to day impact of this on teams, the dynamics, how people are feeling and how we can engage them better and ensure they have a better experience.
Thank you. The impact of Covid-19 on our physical interactions has been well documented but many people have been impacted in other ways. I wonder if you could share with us some of those other ways and how they’ve affected people.
There’s a very sort of classic graph that I use when I’m talking about our response to a collective emotional trauma and it comes out of a chart that the American government produced, which shows how groups of individuals respond to something big and awful that happens to them. And Covid is a trauma. And if you question that for a second and think do I feel traumatised, I’m not sure, trauma means something that’s a threat to life. So, all of us have got used to in the last 15, 16 months seeing on the news how many people have died today, how many people are in intensive care. Speaking to people who have lost relatives or friends or been affected in a profound way.
So really what we see is that as people go into the crisis in March 2020 the kind of lowering of mood, the sense of something big happening. The pace increases. And then we have the moment of impact with it which in the UK is sort of the third week in March, other markets kind of called it a little bit earlier or a little bit later. And then we get this very intense heroic frenzy you could call it, it’s this surge of adrenaline and we’re all madly trying to reorganise everything, fix everything, make it all work. And for those of us that were told we’d be locking down for six weeks, it felt like a very short period where we might have to home school our children and change everything about how we worked, and then things would be back to normal. And we all expected this return to normal. And of course, when it didn’t happen, we then many of us, lost energy and that frenzy declined and many people became quite lethargic, apathetic, some felt really quite depressed, people felt lonely, and people felt that it was going on endlessly. And at some point in this chart, things start to get better again. And the recovery happens in waves, so you have periods where you think oh yes, we’re opening up, everything, oh, no no no we’re going back. We’re going back. So we see this kind of wave coming out of the other side and I think the question at the moment is where are we on that sort of recovery phase? And in different markets it’s really different you know, some markets feel like they’re really beyond the worst of it and others still in the thick of it. So, all of us have been on a journey, I think being conscious of how big a journey that that is, is really important.
I think a lot of our listeners can resonate with a lot of what you’ve just covered Christine. I certainly remember the heroic frenzy but also sadly the home-schooling which wasn’t too much fun.
If I move to another question, we know large corporates have spent a lot of time planning the physical element of the return to work. Sanitised work spaces and office layouts etc. What other issues do they need to consider when people start to return to work? Is there anything that they might not be thinking of?
Let’s start with you know, what are the psychological impacts of people returning to offices, if they’re coming back. And I think we have to look at what happened during the pandemic to understand that. And the first thing to be aware of is that this was a really, really polarising experience. And so there were people who had a very good pandemic in inverted commas in terms of they perhaps live in a good sized home, they’ve got space to work. They didn’t have small children under their feet that they were trying to home-school. They weren’t ill themselves, no one very close to them was terribly affected. And at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got people who have had a horrendous experience for whatever reason, and it could be a very unsatisfactory living arrangement, shared accommodation, a failing relationship, very difficult pressures with small children or home schooled children. It could be their own mental health, they could have lost people, they could have been unwell themselves. So and it’s been very difficult through teams and zoom to really understand how different and polarising those experiences are. And when you regroup people, I don’t know about you James, but I’ve been to quite a few now small meetings, roundtables, lunches, dinners in a sort of business setting and what you find when you bring those people together is a kind of moment of peace at the beginning where everybody looks at each other and tries to assess what their experience has been, and tries to sort of meet each other in the middle whether they’ve had a good experience or a bad experience or somewhere in the middle. So I t think this will be true of the return to offices. I use a chart when I’m sometimes talking about this in terms of the Covid sensitivity scale. You will have extroverts in your teams who are desperate to get back, they cannot wait to get back with the gang, to walk through those doors, to be in the energy of the office. To go out for lunch, for drinks, to see clients. And they are just raring to go and can’t wait. And then you will have people who for health reasons or because they’re more introverted, they really enjoy being at home are very, very wary of going back. And when we look at the data we see this sort of, all surveys it’s slightly different on it but approximately you end up with about 20% of people who never ever want to work at home again, who just want to go back to the office and about 20% who never ever want to work in the office again. So you end up with this polarisation at each extreme and then you end up with this middle ground of people who want to do two or three days. Now depending on your policy, they’re obviously going to respond differently. So one of the things we’ve heard about recently is lots of very sensible companies doing the right thing, interviewing lots of people and saying well most people want to work two or three days a week and then when you offer it to people they just don’t turn up, perhaps 1 or 2% come in. And that might be because we have quite a psychological barrier some of us to going back, because we’ve got used to wearing their yoga trousers, I might possibly be wearing mine now around the house and eating their lunch in the kitchen. And just pottering around. And that barrier of their commute, of getting out, dressing possibly, the hard pants the Americans seem to have called it. And turning up at the office is quite high. But what we see also is that those people have gone over that hump and come out the other side and often been quite energised by it and feel quite excited when they get there.
So, the first thing is assessment of like what the spread is in your office and how people are likely to feel. Some people are going to be raring to go back and some people are going to be reluctant. What can you do to reassure the reluctant ones, how can you check in with them, make sure they’re coming in, and get them over that initial hump of resistance, because one they get over it it’s probably going to go better than they expect. Once you get there the mistakes that we’re seeing again and again are that people then go into overly managed, highly sanitised offices where there isn’t the interaction and the warmth that those people who want it are actually looking for. So, if you then go in, separate everyone, don’t let them take their masks off at all, you know, sanitise every surface, put up barriers between everybody, make everybody work on zoom anyway, then they go why did I bother coming in in the first place, what was the point of all of this, and they get terribly cross about all of it. I think the third thing to think about is where is the celebration. One of the things we’ve seen is a decline in loyalty to organisations. it’s very different to walking through for instance Barclays smart beautiful shiny atrium and feeling yeah, I'm part of a very elite team here, I'm very important, this team is important, I'm hired because I'm really good at my job and being in your home office, in your shed or whatever, kind of going I've just got to get through the day. So, when people do walk back through that atrium, how do you make it a celebration, a pleasant, a welcome back that people feel it was worth making that effort?
You make some really excellent points and I think a lot of how people have interpreted the pandemic has definitely depended on what they’ve been experience too, the spectrum’s really wide. In fact, in our team there’s been some unexpected benefits from the pandemic, you know just to give one example, team meetings held virtually really worked. They really level set, especially on a national basis when you’ve got people in multiple offices. So you know we want to retain that, it’s really important to us as we move forward. Maybe just returning to those psychological impacts that you mentioned, what can corporates do to prepare themselves to support employees, I mean new ways of hybrid work forces as they take shape?
So, one, a couple of different things that we’ve seen. So, we have a group of people that I sometimes call drifters, who have struggled with lockdown. Possibly they’ve struggled with communicating through technology, possibly they’ve struggled in other aspects of their life. And they’ve become rather less present during lockdown as remote working. So perhaps they’re the people who don’t turn their cameras on during calls, perhaps they don’t contribute very much on team calls. Perhaps they’re just sort of less visible in the team than they would be if you were all in the same space. So, the first thing I would be thinking about if I was a team leader would be which, who in my team do I feel, you know they’re just a little bit further away, they’re a little bit unreachable. I’m not sure what’s going on with them. And identify who that group is and how you’re going to build connections and rebuild a sort of closer relationship with them.
The other thing to bear in mind that’s really important is that people have tended to report less loyalty to their employer, so many of the things that tie us into organisations so say you work at Barclays at Canary Wharf and there’s a fantastic gym in the office and a really nice coffee shop that you go to on the way in every day. And you sit next to somebody that you really get on well with and makes you laugh. And when a head-hunter calls and says hey, how about coming over here you go oh actually there are a few things that make this job work for me, so a little bit more money, I’m quite happy where I am. If people are at home, they don’t really have those same hooks that are necessarily binding them in and they’re more likely to think well you know what, same screen, different faces, you know what it doesn’t matter that much, I might as well take the money. And also we know that almost 50% of people based on a global Microsoft study of 31,000 people shows that almost half of them are considering changing something quite big and fundamental about their life in the next year. Which could be breaking up with somebody that they’ve been living with during this period, it could be having a baby, it could be moving house, moving out of the country they’re in. It could be any number of things. So I think for leaders it’s sort of thinking what might those changes be, who might need extra support, who’s going to be raring to come back and literally can’t wait to get out and back into the office with their smart shoes on and their ironed clothes. And who’s going to be really reluctant, going to have to be enticed back. So, it’s going to take a bit of time to think through those things and just start to rebuild some of those in person connections.
So from a leadership perspective, it’s to expect the unexpected by the sounds of it, from our staff
I think it might be unexpected. What I would say is slightly different. I would say expect more emotional baggage that it might be that some managers and team leaders have had to deal with previously. Because it may be that things that day to day would get sort of dealt with and handled and brushed away or fixed or resolved, or somebody might be brought in to support somebody who’s perhaps struggling, may have been exacerbated. So some leaders and managers may be surprised by the depth of change in people who come through the door and how profound some of those challenges might have been if they’ve lost people, if they’ve been really unwell themselves. So I wouldn’t say it’s entirely unexpected but it might just be a bit bigger and heavier emotionally than some team leaders might have dealt with frequently in the past.
Got it. That’s a good segue to my next question which is we often talk to the considerable resilience people have shown through the pandemic, but how important is it not to rely on that and not to take employees’ wellbeing for granted?
Well I would say it’s massive because look, one thing that this pandemic has shown us is that we are absolutely rubbish at looking after ourselves when we have free rein. So we work longer, we are online longer, we do less exercise. People either drink more or don’t drink. As we become more extreme in our drinking, lots and lots of people are reporting that they’ve put on weight, and they eat more. We know that people’s work life boundaries are shot, we know that burnout is really high, people feel like the incoming over the week is relentless. And there’s good data on this, you know the number of times the amount of time people are spending in meetings has gone up by about 150% during this period and people are also getting a lot more incoming messages on SAP and online instant message systems, on emails. So, people are feeling really bombarded and they haven’t on the whole taken out the time to take really good care of themselves.
So, for leaders, what does that mean? That means you really need to think about, has your team been taking care of itself? If not, what are you going to demonstrate as good behaviour, what are you going to discuss in terms of boundaries? And my prediction is that one of the things that good employers are going to really focus on in the next year or 18 months is how to reinstate some boundaries between work and home life. Because what we know, is that although working hours have, according to one survey from the States, increased by 30% as people have wrapped in their commute and their lunch, and they’re always online, it’s actually led to a 20% drop in productivity. Because for all that extra time, we’re not getting anything extra done. And part of the reason for that is that we are responding to chat messages 50% of the time in less than five minutes. So, we’re in this kind of message respond message respond, we’re not thinking, we’re not doing that deep work, we’re not doing the strategic work, we’re not taking ourselves out for an hour or 90 minutes to think, what is the purpose of my job, what am I employed for, what am I going to get rated on, you know, what do I need to deliver this month? What’s going to be my appraisal? And that is some of the stuff we really need to be putting back into people’s schedules and talking about as we change back again.
Yeah we really need a correction don’t we? I think that was beginning to creep in a little bit before the pandemic but I know from my own experience, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. People want to meet same day, there’s lots more messaging. You’re right, there’s never time to plan or in our world business develop.
Yeah absolutely, and we know that that’s a really unsatisfying way to work because by the end of the week it’s very likely that you look back at the week and you go, well I’ve just, I’ve got teams or zoom calls in my diary back to back to back. I’ve answered a couple of thousand messages, but I don’t feel I’ve done anything, I don’t have a sense of achievement or accomplishment that I’ve written a strategy or written a proposal or signed a new deal. Because all of it has been generating more and more communication. So, I think ripping that back and being really thoughtful about how you take that time back to really do your thinking, productive work, and how you demonstrate that and support others doing it as well.
I’ve also felt through the pandemic that people have tried to raise me at very short notice, or I’ve been caught on instant messaging and just answered emails through the day. So I think we’ve all got a duty to try to clear the noise to get back to a more strategic way of working just to satisfy performance objectives and get back into a better rhythm. But thanks very insightful Christine, for what you’ve covered.
Finally, what would you say would be your one piece of advice or guidance for anyone listening who’s either welcomed staff back to offices or is soon to do so? What’s the one thing you would ask them to consider or do?
Well on an individual level for anybody listening to this and thinking about what they might have learnt during the pandemic, I would say start by really being analytical about what you have discovered about yourself, because so many people I’ve interviewed have said that they don’t feel they’re the same person they were when they went into this pandemic. They’ve re-evaluated their values and what’s important. And it may be the simple things, you know, people saying, its often men saying oh I never got home for dinner with my kids and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed is being able to eat a meal with my kids and my family in the evening. So what have you taken out of this that you’ve learnt something from that’s important to you, and then write a list and write on that list, these are things that I never want to do again as a result of the pandemic. And quite probably that’s work all hours but not actually any focused time. It might be home schooling quite likely because that was a pretty awful experience for anybody who tried it unless, some people loved it but lots of us found it very, very difficult when we were also doing jobs. And write down the things you don’t want to do again, perhaps you were limiting the amount of exercise you could do or didn’t make enough time for it, perhaps you didn’t eat terribly well. And then have another column saying now and forever, what do I want from my life going forward and if it is to have dinner with your kids a couple of times a week well this is the moment to grab that and say right, how do I now rewrite my schedule, how do I plan my time so that I can do those things that are really important to me, how do I communicate that with my team, and how do I make sure that the things that make me me and ground me are really set in stone?
In terms of organisations, I think it is creating an energy and joy in the office. One of the things people have really lacked and sort of been crying out for is the energy of their colleagues and their teams, walking through those double doors and going yep, I’m here, this is an exciting place, big things happen here, I’m really happy that I work here, this is the right thing for me to be doing. And I think employers recreating that, somebody told me that they have an annual two day retreat every year and of course they did it online and she said, just watching the video that they’d taken of the office with nobody in it made her feel better about her employer and want to go back because she loves the space, wanted to go back and see those rooms and see all the decor and things that she felt quite connected to. So what are we going to do to reinstall that connection, that loyalty and make people feel good about some of the positives of the place that they work?
Well said. I think for me it’s definitely reconnecting with people and I would not relish anymore home schooling ever again. That’s just a personal perspective.
I would agree, James. I certainly do.
Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today, it’s been fascinating to hear more about the psychological impacts of Covid-19 on workers, and the diverse challenges facing organisations as some employees return to work. I hope our listeners have found it as insightful as I have and I hope you will all join me, Christine and I, for the next episode in the series.
James and Christine discuss how the pandemic is redefining the future of the offices.
00:00:00 James Morris
If we had a blank sheet of paper, would we even bother with offices? Would it be a different type of social scene to interact, and what would that look like?
Welcome to this Barclays podcast series on successfully and safely returning employees to the office post Covid-19. I’m James Morris and I run our business and professional services team here at Barclays.
With government restrictions being increasingly relaxed, the return of staff to offices is gathering pace. Whether firms expect their employees to return to office full time or whether they are looking to implement a hybrid working model, there are plenty of issues to consider. I’m joined by Christine Armstrong, renowned writer and speaker on issues relating to the future of work to explore how the pandemic is redefining the purpose of offices. We know that large corporates have spent a lot of time planning the physical elements of the return to work, you know the sanitised workspaces or the changes to office layouts etc. but actually I think there are fundamental issues to consider here such as how the pandemic is redefining the purposes of offices. I’d be interested to get your views on this Christine.
00:01:14 Christine Armstrong
A really big question for leaders and teams and everybody’s thinking about this right now, everybody’s giving up space or redefining space and working out how the office is going to be used and nobody really knows how offices are going to work if some of the people come in two days a week, some come in three days a week, some perhaps want to come in every day. Some we know won’t want to come in at all. We’re going to have to make decisions and one of the feedback that we’ve seen really early is that when people are encouraged or demanded, required to be back in the office and they turn up and they just end up doing their emails and being on video conference calls and going home, they’re really cross about it. Because they think that’s a blinking waste of money and a waste of my time commuting, I could do that at home. Now that then puts a pressure on the office to do something slightly different. Now for every team that might be something else. It could be, you know for an accounting team that they want to get together and go through the month end and there are some key dates going through looking at their planning, sitting together, looking at their excel databases, having conversations. For a sales team it could be something else, it could be that energy and that lift, and the competition and the adrenaline that the team has from being in the same space. And what they do is going to be dependent on your job function. Obviously, we’re talking about offices here rather than other kinds of jobs, but I think thinking that through is really important. I know Rory Sutherland sometimes speaks about this and he says that he thinks the future of the office is going to be either the library where people can go and do deep work and really think about things or the pub where people share ideas or experiences. And kind of generate ideas and innovation. I’m not sure it’ll be that extreme. I think it won’t be so dissimilar to what we had previously but I think what we will see is more of a focus if people are in, on making sure there’s some sort of collaboration and there’s some purpose for them being there.
One area that’s particularly relevant to many teams is that teams look very different as in there’s concentrations of people in large cities and then there’s smaller sort of fragments outside of the main areas. Going back into the office we want to treat everyone the same but clearly, we got to a point pre pandemic that looked very different, so we run the risk going back that we’re too blunt in our approach. We maybe lose some of the nuance. So, I just wondered Christine if you had any thoughts around that?
This is something that so many organisations and leaders are dealing with and I’ve seen three kind of approaches if you like to how we’re going to manage our time and our different offices, and how we use them going forward. And one is the kind of Goldman JP Morgan everybody back, just totally clear, very uniform and very black and white. Everybody’s back, that’s the goal and as soon as it’s allowed, everybody’s in. And in some ways, I think if you’re a prestigious organisation and you pay well that may work out quite well for you because people didn’t join those organisations in order to have a very easy life and to do a 9 til 5 day. Most other organisations have kind of tried to do some kind of hybrid and they’re working through, you know the John Lewis the Deloittes, lots of the management consultancies, lots of the law firms thinking about this, how do we do a sort of a mix and how does that work. But a lot of people, because we don’t know how it’s going to work yet, have fallen into a trap of trying to put out a policy when we don’t quite know how it works. And so, a lot of them are called into, what I’ve slightly jokingly called the Eric Cantona approach which is to send out complicated wordy memos that set out how they think it might work, but nobody quite understands because the person writing it doesn’t quite know anyway. And as one CEO I challenged on a slightly dodgy memo said, you know what we’re trying to do this across 28 different markets with 28 different sets of employment legislation, it is impossible to say something really clear and really true and also, we don’t quite know what’s going to happen.
So, I think my thought on it is to say listen we don’t know, nobody knows, nobody knows how this is going to work at scale. Organisations have done it in a small way but not a big way. Therefore, these are the perimeters, these are the principles we’re going to try to work to. We’re going to try and say listen, when we need to collaborate, we’re going to get people together, people are going to need to be able to access their office and come into specific places. And where people really want to be at home and work remotely, we will try to support that. But where it doesn’t work in terms of our client servicing, the needs of the business, our productivity, we’re going to have to keep changing that. And it’s going to vary between teams. What the HR team needs is going to be very, very different perhaps to what your marketing team might need in the business. They’re going to need very different things and we’re going to accept that. So we’re going to have some principles across the business and then we’re going to let teams work out what works for them. And we don’t expect to know all the answers from the beginning.
Yeah, I think from my perspective, I’ve changed from using the word like policy to strategy cause a strategy evolves, changes, unforeseen circumstances come in. And I think there’s that iterative effect here. Because there’s been this kind of situation for so long, people want an answer and crave it to be final, but it just doesn’t work like that. It has to continue to evolve.
I think that’s the challenge. People want answers because remember half of them are considering changing something major in their life. So they want to know and yet we don’t really know the answers. And I think you just have to front that up and say this is what we’re hoping to do, this is how we think it’s going to work but in reality, we’re going to have to keep reviewing it and changing it because we don’t quite know yet and maybe that’s okay. And different people are also going to also have really different responses to it and that’s probably going to have to be okay to a certain extent as well.
Just changing subjects slightly, do you think that the composition of labour markets will change cause of the talent distribution that we can access in large organisations?
So I think it does two different things. It allows you potentially to access a much, much bigger group of talent which is potentially very exciting. I think though it also has other implications that we may not fully understand yet. So, if for example, if you took it to the absolute extreme and said there are some people, anybody can come into the office if they want to, and people can work at home if they want to. If the way that that’s sorted was the people who came to the office tended to be younger, they tended to be male and they tended to be more extrovert and those people then worked together, you might end up inadvertently changing the culture of your organisation in a way that you might or might not have wanted it to go. And that might then impact on who wanted to work with you in a wider sense going forwards. So, I think there are lots of ramifications in terms of talent we don’t understand yet. And it’s one of the things that I as a researcher am really looking forward to getting under the skin of. How does this affect people who have different needs, live in different places, have different working patterns, different personality styles, how does this work best or not for them?
Interesting. Actually, I had a conversation with a customer yesterday on return to office rather than work, office. And they said if you think about it the office was only the solution years ago pre technology. So, if we have a blank sheet of paper, would we even bother with offices, would it be a different type of social scene to interact and what would that look like? I don’t know if any of your research has gone down those avenues.
Well I think that will be something that some people try. I guess the question to you is what do you feel when you go into your office and you see your team that you work with? Does that lift your energy, does it change how you feel, is it something you want and you need, or is it something that if somebody said you know what James, blank sheet of paper, if you want to work in your home office for the rest of your career, is that what you want to do? And I think your response to that is interesting but equally one of the problems of saying what’s your response to it is that the data shows us that bosses are much happier on the whole with this arrangement than their teams. So when we look at the data we say who’s thriving, who’s happy. And the more senior you are the more likely you are to be able to say no I’m not turning up on that team’s call, it’s a waste of my time, I’m bored, I’ve done enough today, enough. I’m not responding to that email because I think it’s nonsense and I’m going to get done what I can do. So, you’re broadly potentially if you’re in charge, you’re going to feel quite happy. If you’re more junior, if you’re generation z, if you’re a bit more vulnerable, if you’re a new employee, if you’re less confident, if you have less control, you may well be feeling like you’re drowning in incoming and that you don’t have any control and you’re really quite frustrated and you would love to be back in the office where it’s all a bit easier to address it.
Yeah just on your question, I’ve always struggled with rows and rows of desks with people pretending to be busy or busy behind a screen for hour after hour. It’s got its place but generally it’s the buzz of people that I crave. So I just hope they rip out the EU standard battery fitted desks and start again with the floor plates. But I don’t know, I’ve got a feeling that they will largely be there again.
Well, there might be more space to play with and I think a lots of people will be experimenting. So this will be the moment when it might change. And one of the things that we’ve really seen in this pandemic is how our social networks and our work networks have got smaller. So people deal more with a smaller group of people and that’s been really terrible on the whole for diversity because our first instinct is to go to people who sound like us, look like us, educated the same as us. So, groups have become kind of tighter and more, those drifters have been the people that have tended to be pushed out around the edges. And so, the benefit of going back into a space where you meet and see more people, you’re reminded of different views, you walk out for coffee, and you walk past someone you worked with a couple years ago who says I’m doing this thing right and I just thought, and you go we’re doing this thing and we should talk about that cause they’re really similar. That’s where good ideas come from, it’s where solutions come from. So being in the office, even if people are doing their email, they don’t really see the value of it, does have loads of advantages that you don’t notice on the tiny micro level but when you put them together, change organisations.
Do you think where we are in the pandemic, clearly, it’s not over, but do you think it might accelerate technology advancement? So maybe not advancement because I actually think that there’s more out there than we realise that’s not adopted yet. I’m thinking things like virtual board meetings. I saw some of this tech in China five or six years ago where you could have people in multiple locations, offices, but brought together in a room. And they were like holograms, it looked like them. But we haven’t seen it adopted yet five years on. Do you think now this might drive it through?
I think it is because I’m hearing from people all over the place that they’re investing an enormous amount of money in those kind of virtual board rooms and making sure that everybody appears with equal sound and equalised visuals, and everyone can interact. And I think the virtual reality game, everybody is so excited about it and thinks it’s going to change everything although it’s also sort of terrifying as well. I think my read, and I’m not a tech expert, is that it’s a bit further away than we think. It’s a few more years, it’s not immediate. And so, the question for the short term is yes, I think we can do better than teams and zoom, and it’s going to get incrementally better before it gets much better. But there’s still the dynamic that we hear and see all the time which is that if you’re in a meeting room and other people are remote, the people in the room together tend to end up with the power and the decision making. Which is as soon as the screen goes off they go, do you know that point about that, I thought that was really important, shall we just do that? And someone goes, yeah let’s just do that shall we? And even though you’ve just spent 90 minutes on a call discussing, you’ve just changed the outcome of the meeting and half the people weren’t there.
Interesting. Do you think, one final area just to get your perspective, but in the last decade there’s probably been a tail off in entertaining clients because of corruption, bribery, expense, time, resource all those kinds of things. Do you think that as we get back together there may be a rise in actual social entertainment or hospitality between two parties external to one another?
So, I do a weekly blog on LinkedIn, and I interviewed a guy about this who thinks it’s going to be a return to Mad Men, he thinks people are just desperate to put on their smart clothes, to go back to their smart offices and wine and dine and go out. So, he’s expecting this this kind of renaissance of the 20s, this real buzz of being out. And certainly I see that with some groups who are covid confident, who are not worried about their own health or people around them. Who are extroverts, who enjoy life and enjoy their jobs, there’s definitely a great hunger isn’t there to get out. But again the risk is that it’s a bit polarising because there are other people who are like, it’s been lovely not having to socialise for the last 18 months and taking up jigsaws and gardening and are much happier than they’ve ever been. And you end up you know with those two extremes don’t you?
Especially if they’re organised events sponsored by the bank in our instance, and you know if something terrible happened as a consequence it’s not great, so the confidence is good but it’s also the sort of reputational side. But I think it will rise again, I really do.
I mean I have to say, my bookings for in person events have in the last month or so gone bananas. I feel like there’s this latent desire of people to get people in the room. And they’ve all got the caveat, you know, if we can’t do it, we’ll have to do it remotely but we’re really hoping that we’ll be able to do it. And the events that I have attended, which have all been quite small scale so far, have just been attended with such great enthusiasm, never have people met in a slightly dodgy hotel for croissants and a carton of orange juice and felt so good about doing it because they’re so happy to be out, if that’s what they enjoy.
Hopefully it’s lasting and it’s enduring.
Well look thanks Christine for sharing these insights today, it’s been fascinating, especially to hear about the challenges facing organisations and some employees as we return to office. I hope our listeners have found it as insightful as I have, and I hope you will all join us for the next episode in the series. Thank you.
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