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).
Continue reading “Collaboration, not culture wars, will help us return to the office” →
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.
Continue reading “Can the West of England’s new mayor tackle its collaboration challenge?” →
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.
Continue reading “Building trust takes more than soundbites” →
One of my saddest moments from the last six months came when I left our office in Bristol for the last time before lockdown started. *
It was 19 March and news broke that all but ‘essential’ travel for work was discouraged. Full lockdown was four days away, but we decided at Social to work from home until further notice from that point. Although we were used to flexible working, vacating our offices en masse took things to a different level.
On the bus home from Bristol, my head was spinning with questions. How are our clients coping? Would any of them leave us? What would happen if they did? When would we see the office or colleagues again? After all our work over the previous two-and-a-half years to build a viable business, this felt wounding and deeply unfair. Swapping WhatsApp messages with colleagues, sitting on the top deck, I felt alone.
That week, I spoke with each member of the Bristol team and felt that while there was a chance of getting through this, we had to dig in and work for that outcome. And that’s what we did.
We’ve kept most clients and found new work. We’ve moved into new areas, helping clients engage communities, manage issues and grow. We’ve grown and created new jobs. This week, a new starter joins my team. We’ve done all of this from home, having left our office in the summer.
When I think of how I felt on the way home in March, what’s happened since feels incredible. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s been physically and emotionally draining. Above all, it’s been hard work.
This is my personal backdrop to recent stories about the emerging narrative to persuade people to get ‘back to work’ in a bid to save city centres.
Continue reading “Cities need more than a ‘back to work’ campaign” →
With all that’s happened since June, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big decision ahead about how the West of England runs its affairs.
The devolution deal for ‘greater Bristol’ won’t set most people’s pulses racing. But ask those who live and work here what’s important to them and many will say housing, transport, education, jobs or a combination of the above. As it happens, the West of England’s deal is geared towards addressing all of these issues.
On the table is £1bn to invest over 30 years in housing, transport and skills. Post #EUref, when ‘taking back control’ swayed views about our country’s future, handing responsibility for these issues to local areas seems an obvious step.
It’s probably worth five minutes’ of everyone’s time in the scheme of things.
Continue reading “Talking about our devolution: what people told us about the deal” →
When they finally arrived, Bristol’s election results signalled a big change for the city that made the national news.
Despite predictions that the mayoral contest was too close to call, voters gave an emphatic victory to Labour’s Marvin Rees. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saw fit to travel to Bristol to congratulate his new mayor.
As I live outside Bristol, I didn’t vote in the mayoral elections. But I followed the contest with interest and was not surprised by Labour’s win after a drawn-out and sometimes tetchy contest.
On many measures, Rees inherits a city in better shape than in 2012 when independent George Ferguson became Bristol’s first elected mayor. It weathered the recession well and has the most productive economy outside London. Its Enterprise Zone in Bristol Temple Quarter is creating more jobs than any similar local scheme. And the arena project is becoming a reality, more than 20 years after it was first mooted.
These achievements should be recognised as a testament to Ferguson’s leadership, although many of his trenchant critics won’t see it that way.
But there are big challenges that Rees must address amongst the many pledges he made during the campaign.
Continue reading “Can Marvin crack Bristol’s housing crisis?” →