Collaboration, not culture wars, will help us return to the office

Work at home (if you can). Get back to work (sorry, the office). Forget that, work at home please. Go back, gradually and carefully. Read the guidance. Businesses must work out what’s best. It’s on you. Fingers crossed!

These phrases illustrate the chaos surrounding England’s official office working guidance during the pandemic. I exaggerate in places. But each statement reflects a government position at a certain moment. Sometimes, ministers even took different positions on the same day.

Navigating this is tricky, especially if you’re not expert in workplace design, occupational health or HR. I’m more used to writing about 600-acre spaces than 600 sq ft ones, and I struggle to visualise how a shell will look when kitted out and occupied. “How many desks can you get in here again?” was a stock phrase used during recent forays into Bristol to check potential new office space.

What knowledge I have is shaped by conversations with helpful agents and dozens of viewings over recent years. Much of this was during COVID, which detonated drastic changes to everyone’s living and working patterns. Once, I nearly agreed a three-year lease on office space before government guidance shifted (again) to work from home. Not signing saved us from paying for a space we couldn’t use.

The process feels fraught with uncertainty and confusion. I know I’m not alone in struggling to find something that works for us post-COVID, as the environment around us remains in flux.

From this muddled standpoint, I’ve watched with interest as people on all sides of the vexed office debate state their case with certainty. As I write from Scotland (that’s flexible location working for you), respective positions around this debate appear to have hardened. Whether it’s work from home or return to the office, it’s taken a binary either/or context.

This is unhelpful when many organisations are looking at somewhere between those points (or hybrid, to use the jargon).

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Can the West of England’s new mayor tackle its collaboration challenge?

Although the West of England has had an incredibly tough year, it’s still one of the country’s best places to live and work by many measures.

Covering areas around Bristol and Bath, the region has the spirit, ingenuity and amazing places that are unmistakably its own. It’s also the most economically productive region outside London. But it’s the region’s human qualities that make it special for so many of us.  

Although many may not realise it, residents can decide this week who leads the organisaton representing the West of England on the political stage. Bristolians can vote on Thursday alongside electing their local councillors, Bristol’s mayor and Avon and Somerset’s Police and Crime Commissioner. 

‘Super Thursday’ presents an opportunity for candidates to lead a region that needs to make its case clearly.  

Business West touched on this point in its recent manifesto for the new mayor, who will lead an organisation covering Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire council areas. Full disclosure: I have worked with some of these organisations at Social. None are clients at the time of writing this.

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#WeAreBristol: statement for a city for hope

#WeAreBristol image

Watching Sunday’s scenes of rioting in Bristol gain traction across the world brought home a mix of feelings about a city and people I have barely seen over the last year.  

I know we were not alone in our dismay and anger at what happened. Many have said the scenes did not represent the city they know and experience up close.

Everyone’s experiences of Bristol are different, it’s true. For all the ‘best places to live’ write-ups, challenges around deprivation, equality of opportunity and housing are real and have terrible consequences for those at the sharp end. There are many, many good people who have worked tirelessly this year (and long before that) to address these challenges. They deserve our gratitude, not sniping from the side-lines.

We are proud of our connections with Bristol and of our colleagues who work and live here with their partners and families. We were struck by the response of thousands of Bristolians who appeared to speak as one this week in saying: this is not who we are.

We wanted to do something to capture this sentiment. So we were pleased to be asked to create a statement from Bristol City Leaders group, which was released on 25 March and is included below.

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Building trust takes more than soundbites

I’ve thought fitfully about relationships and how they shape our views during this grinding start to the year.

They keep families, teams, political organisations and communities of interest together. They’re imperfect, occasionaly fractious and sometimes maddening. But we would not be ourselves without them.

Connections and shared experiences that make life worth living have festered on the backburner since March last year. No amount of Zoom catch ups can fill the void this creates in our lives.

This is the context to my becoming more anxious with feelings that, for all the benefits that technology brings, people aren’t connecting with others who hold different views to theirs.

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PR disaster? Good comms people are proving their worth

Good clear comms has proved its worth

How was 2020 for you? If you work in comms, it’s probably been a mixed bag at best.

COVID-19 wreaked huge damage on parts of the sector, with jobs and businesses lost. Many who stayed in work, in the public and private sector, were much busier and more stressed. They worked under a cloud of uncertainty, responding to constantly changing events.

There will be learning points from this. On balance though, comms professionals can be proud of how they supported the COVID-19 response. They helped organisations adapt, kept the public and stakeholders informed and saved lives. Need convincing? Check out these examples of how the NHS is responding across all these fronts on #FuturePRoof’s website.

It’s a great shame, then, to see comments about ‘PR disasters’ when mistakes happen. It featured in commentary on the government’s COVID response, around issues created and managed (badly) by people like Dominic Cummings. Its cousin – the ‘comms failing’ – was name-checked when local leaders raised legitimate concerns at being out of the loop on important policy announcements affecting their areas.

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Three points for government comms – and three for me – during lockdown

This week marks the start of a new financial year for us at Social, and my first as managing director of our South West division. I enter it with mixed emotions.

On the upside, I feel elated at our achievements in this most challenging of years. Our team doubled its size and turnover in 2020. We raised the bar in the quality of our work and the type of clients we’re supporting. We’ve adjusted brilliantly to enforced changes in how we work. We’ve been flexible, empathetic and innovative in supporting our clients.

While I don’t take any of this for granted, it is tempered by sadness, anger and despondency at the national response to the pandemic. As a comms person, I’ve despaired at what I’ve seen and heard about events leading up to the latest lockdown announcement.

In an attempt to set this out in coherently, I’ve split this post into two sections: three things I’d change about the government’s handling of this crisis and three things I will do myself. It’s not intended as a plan; it’s more a way to collate my thoughts and feelings to help me to look ahead with clarity.   

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