Empowering the individual: remembering that work and community are about people

Large 572c712f d698 44d8 ae68 f6bd7cecd3d0

Last month I wrote about the value of shared wisdom and community within the City and beyond. Whilst such philosophical reflections are interesting, there is a point at which one asks - how does this all relate to our daily experiences and tangible goals?

Last month I wrote about the value of shared wisdom when it comes to both our individual experiences of work and life, as well as our shared community within the City and beyond. Whilst such philosophical reflections are interesting it's important, especially for a world leading financial and professional services city like London, to translate that thinking into practicalities and practical action. So, there is a point at which one asks - how does this all relate to our daily experiences and tangible goals?

Hybrid working is just part of a work in progress

We see questions around community play out, in the City, in the context of our working environments. Since the pandemic, businesses have been faced with both the challenge and the opportunity of reconsidering their approach to the office.

Most companies are still finding their way when it comes to hybrid working - who, what, when and how should people come into the office? Do they want to? When do they need to? What does that mean for the literal structure of an office and its purpose? How does that affect company culture? What are the pros and cons for physical and mental health? What does it mean for urban communities? The reality, I suspect, is that all of this will continually evolve.

When speaking to individuals who design office spaces, the nature of them is that where once upon a time you might have had rows of desks with people huddled over their computers, today much of that independent work is perhaps done from home. The office, in many circumstances, serves more as a space for collaboration, communication, creativity and learning. We see more communal spaces and smaller meeting rooms for interviews or Zoom calls.

There is a lot of hypothesising about the science behind workspaces and how we work - broadly speaking, people seem to be in three camps:

  • Those who firmly believe in people coming into the office
  • Those who are ardent advocates of home working
  • Those who think that a balance between the two is best

No doubt it's dependent on the business, the job role, and the individual themselves.

Our responsibility to one another

I think perhaps much comes down to autonomy - trusting and empowering individuals to make independent and appropriate choices about the way they work.

We know more about neurodiversity now than ever and are more compassionate in today's world about the needs of individuals. As employers we need to recognise that we are not parents - we must understand that some people really cannot work well in an open plan space with a lot of noise, but also that not everyone has a suitable space at home to work in either. That might be because they live in shared housing, have difficult home lives or simply don't have the space to set up a home office. Then again, some people thrive in, and need, the stimulus of a working environment both to work at their best and for their mental well-being.

Equally, individuals need to be honest with themselves about what they need to deliver their best at work and to contribute for the mutual benefit of themselves, their colleagues, and their employer. It is a function of mutual responsibility, perhaps with no singular answer.

For my own 10 pence worth, I think that people who want to do well at work will make decisions that enable them to do the best job they can. By harnessing that individual motivation, I think the City can do better than it already has done, contributing widely and creating greater successes beyond the Square Mile, as well as helping to address the major challenges of today – inflation, the cost of living, competing on the world stage, and attracting and retaining top talent.

We are human

A point that shouldn't be forgotten is that we are fundamentally social beings. As Covid recedes in our memories there’s an increasing realisation that in a commercial environment we need to spend time with one another. Online meetings are good for occasional meetings with business providers, but when you’re in a team context you need to be closer together to keep ideas ticking over and for channels of communication to remain open, so that misunderstandings are minimised, learning is optimised, and experience is maximised.

On a personal note, I find that if I’m sitting next to someone, any misunderstandings in communication are quickly lanced and time together creates a healthier in team dynamic. I'm sure I’m not alone, and as a result I think we will continue to see the need for people to come back to work in the office more frequently.

Prior to Covid we had half a million people coming into the City everyday to work and I theorised that taking a three-to-five-year view we would have considerably more people than that coming in everyday as a place to do business or work. They might not necessarily come in five days a week, nine to five, but people would be drawn to working hubs to engage personally. It now feels like those numbers are continuing to recover and could still end up in that place over the next few years, particularly with the evolution of a destination City concept that incorporates a more social and cultural hub as well. Indeed, if the recent report from the Centre for Cities is anything to go by “Policymakers should be wary that we don’t let a public health emergency turn into a longer-term negative impact on the economy” by overlooking more than a century’s worth of academic work demonstrating the economic benefits of face-to-face collaboration and agglomeration.

The best of all worlds

Perhaps something of a channel for all this hypothesising, this year will see the launch of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC). It is being established as an international community with a vision for a better world, where every citizen is empowered to prosper, contribute and flourish. It seeks to foster a community of change makers, encouraging individuals to be responsible and proactive for themselves and the world about them - all of us ultimately working for the growth, prosperity and productivity of all.

I am firmly of the belief, in part because I already see it in action, that both as individuals and as a community it is possible to be a simultaneously collaborative society and a community that encourages and rewards individual growth and success. With these aspects of the City aligned we can achieve more than the sum of our parts, taking the challenges and learnings of recent years as well as the advantages of past ways of working and new ones, to ultimately have and create the best of all worlds.