19th June 2017 Adoption By

Has remote working become very last century?

London Calling.

Back in the mid-80s, everyone piled into London once their university or college days were over. It made sense – the provinces were in decline and London was where it was all happening.

Rents were high in nice areas, but there were plenty of low rent options for those on regular salaries, or for people who’s parents weren’t paying their bills.

You knew where you were in the 80s, life was simpler in some ways and more difficult in others. It was a time without mobile phones, there was no internet, no email, no business collaboration software, nothing at all really, except a phone on your desk and a diary or personal organiser.

People dressed smartly in the office and to some, things like pens were important. Hey, is that a Mont Blanc? It was the start of the Yuppie years and you spent your time with a phone wedged between shoulder and ear, holding for the person you’d called – because of course, they were already on the phone. Everyone was either on a call or in a meeting.

Today messaging or texting is now the initial contact protocol. You message them to say, are you free? It would seem a little rude to ‘ring’ someone out of the blue.

Calls are being replaced by video – for both 121 sessions and larger meetings. We meet, see and communicate with colleagues on-line, all the time, and there’s no need to be in a company office. Flexi-workers may struggle in a couple of times a week if they have to – grumbling at the travel chaos and the appalling traffic. It’s far more productive and convenient to work flexibly, just consider the money saved on work clothes and overpriced coffee.

And yet some seemingly enlightened companies are turning away from home working. At the same time an Inrix report highlighted the UK as the most congested country in the EU, IBM announced that along with Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard, it’s forcing previously home-based people to work permanently from a company office.

It’s caused quite a stir – Richard Branson wrote on the Virgin website: “This seems a backward step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”

Now if people are more efficient and productive working flexibly, and with real estate in London (and other large cities) through the roof – why hasn’t the penny dropped? Offices are being built at a faster rate than ever – so are companies right to insist that people must work again from corporate premises?

Some work facts about London provide an interesting perspective:

  • It’s Europe’s largest city and the sixth richest in the world.
  • The median London house costs over 10 times the median salary and median private rents are 25-50% of gross median earnings.
  • The average property value is currently £481,000 and is expected to increase by 11% over the next five years. The average property in the capital by the end of 2021 is expected to cost £533,400.
  • Many believe London offers Europe’s best and most diverse workforce. Among more than 4 million workers you’ll find 230 languages, 400,000 creatives and some of the world’s best professional services partners.
  • Desk occupation rates are 50% on average. Deduct unoccupied desks where their owners have got up to go somewhere else and actual bums on seats can easily be closer to 35% on average.

And against this backdrop, more and more businesses and people seem determined to set up in London. All those less salubrious parts from the 1980s have been ‘nice’ for a long time now. The east end is described as gentrified, and areas bordering the south circular, once the preserve of Citizen Smith and his pals, are stuffed full of new 4x4s and children with names from Evelyn Waugh novels.

I don’t think we’re going back to the Yuppie days (did they ever really leave us?) – but as some large companies get cold feet about home working, and with an ever increasing range of flexible working and collaboration options out there it does feel like employers are going retro and back to a culture of line of sight management.

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