Chamber Chat with Chris Gardner

August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Chamber Chat with Chris Gardner

Chamber Chat with Chris Gardner, Chamber Director and Director of Waters & Atkinson

I wrote here last year about how I was very sceptical about home working. These assumptions have been tested of late! My firm, Waters and Atkinson, had no homeworkers before March. Within about ten days only a couple were office based. So what have I learnt and have my views changed?

Firstly, we’ve established that there is no IT barrier to home working. This has worked more or less seamlessly with the only headache being when something is stored on paper rather than electronically. This experience will no doubt accelerate the move from paper to electronic record keeping that is at various stages in most businesses and complete at some.

Most of us try to maintain a barrier between home and work and I think that my suspicions that this would be eroded have been confirmed. Can you relax in the same way when your home is your workplace? Visiting (within the rules of course!) a friend recently, she was determined that at 5pm on a Friday all computers and any other visible signs of the office whatsoever were packed away and put out of sight. When she hadn’t earlier in lockdown, it definitely did not feel that the weekend had landed.

My biggest observation now that many more staff are coming to work in the office is that we have conversations that we didn’t have during lockdown. You don’t ring someone up to have the sort of trivial or jovial conversations that you casually have in an open plan office. You can’t hear other people on the phone. You can’t tell if someone is not quite themselves or stressed as easily. I think things like this are important and add up over time to a better team spirit and knowledge of each other and of our clients.

While video meetings have obvious uses, I don’t think they replicate the benefits of a physical meeting. I also notice that in meetings with more than 3 or 4 people, people are likely to be looking at another device and not as focused as they would be in a physical meeting. As for zoom pub quizzes, I’ve realised I’m more interested in the pub bit than the quiz bit!

Also, I don’t think our firm would enjoy some of the received benefits of lockdown. We have short commutes, plentiful office space and work, I think, more productively when we can easily interrupt each other to share expertise.

Has my view changed then? In summary no: the virus is a one-off event and we’ll all be better off when things get back to a slightly modified version of the old normal.