After more than a year of dialling in from kitchen tables and makeshift desks in garden sheds, the return to the workplace is in full swing for UK office workers.
We spoke to 15 London WeWork members in all stages of their careers, across eight businesses, to discuss how a permanent WFH setup affected them personally, the surprising things about the office they never knew they’d miss, and what happens when we’re here in the workplace together.
The merge of personal space and workspace
Whether you’re freelance or full-time, working from home long-term was a struggle for many right from the earliest days of the UK’s government lockdown: “Lockdown for me was a bit monotonous”, explains James Lee, Business Development Manager for the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. “I was living at home with my sister, so there wasn’t room for us all to work together…I got out of bed and I was already at work, so there’s no mental separation between the two.”
“I think the novelty of being at home really wore off” says Jenny Woods, founder of social media agency Jwoo Social. “Spending every single day in a one-bed flat with my dog, there just wasn’t very much space to get away from work. As much as you can brainstorm on Zoom, it’s just not really the same.”
Starting work in the virtual world
If WFH was difficult for senior staff members, then it was even more so for newer recruits. Many less experienced employees–including those joining the workforce for the very first time–were finding themselves adrift without all-important face-to-face connections.
“It’s been an unusual experience for me, because I started my job in the virtual world”, explains Joe Goodman, a Public Affairs and PR Assistant at JFG Communications. “I first met my colleagues online, and now I’ve come into an office space where I’m meeting them face-to-face, building much stronger relationships…it’s the informal chats where I feel like I’m learning the most.”
James Hardy, from London-based fintech company IFX Payments agreed: “I think sharing ideas and being able to gauge someone’s personal sort of reaction in person is so important. For newcomers in a business, learning over a virtual environment is never easy. As an employer you can never gauge what they’re picking up well, what they’re not. There’s no substitute for being around people and learning from one another in-person.”
“It’s the little things you miss, like body language and tone of conversation. Over an email you can’t always pick these things up”, adds colleague Harry Bulbeck.
Strengthening lost connections
Asked what it was like to return to their WeWork spaces, the tone changed. Parts of office life that were previously taken for granted now seemed exciting and invigorating; old routines and connections have become fuel for wellbeing.
“It was incredible just to see people in three dimensions,” says Sam Dixy from women’s healthcare company Organon, “Actually hearing about people’s life stories, what they’ve been up to for the last 18 months – seeing a smile in person versus on the screen.”
“I actually missed the commute”, laughs Jenny Woods.
“Just having the time to grab a coffee with your team, having lunch together or taking a break”, were some of the things that Kristana Bielskyte from Klarna had overlooked.
Building the future of the workplace
It’s no surprise then, that business owners are looking towards flexible workspace models. The move to a hybrid style of work allows employers to nurture their teams with productive, collaborative workspace, while fostering a culture of trust and support for employees to work where and how they need.
Just having the time to grab a coffee with your team, having lunch together or taking a breakKristana Bielskyte, Klarna
Simon Nicholson, Managing Director of Organon for the UK, Northern Europe & Israel, explains his stance on the matter: “As a result of the last 18 months, I think all industries and all companies are considering what the future of working looks like. The companies that will succeed and that will thrive will be those that are enabled by a really flexible workspace.”
For all the ways you work
All of the members interviewed agreed that working through a pandemic was a challenge both personally and professionally, but that being back in the office–being back around their colleagues–has given them the boost they need.
It’s the little things you miss, like body language and tone of conversation. Over an email you can’t always pick these things upHarry Bulbeck, IFX Payments
We’ve learnt that many professions can perform their jobs from their bedrooms, but that remote work hasn’t replaced the mentorship, human connection, and creativity that many of us gain when we’re given the choice to go to the office. Whilst not everyone may want to return to the workplace full time, the option to return to colleagues and the atmosphere of a productive space can be empowering – especially when it’s a choice.
“I’m looking forward to the next stages of my career – now I’m back in an office environment and seeing how things work, rather than being in a virtual world.” says JFG’s Joe Goodman. “I think there’s so many opportunities that we can embrace. We’re entering a new period of hybrid working, where your personal preferences; what suits you, what gets the most out of you, is the most important thing. I think it’s a really exciting time.”
We’re entering a new period of hybrid working, where your personal preferences; what suits you, what gets the most out of you, is the most important thing. I think it’s a really exciting time.Joe Goodman, JFG
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the working world in ways we never could have imagined. But through innovative new ideas and the positivity of its members, WeWork is helping workers and businesses alike to find their feet in this new future.
We’re here, for all the ways you work.
Find more out about our workspace solutions in London here.