In a previous Timetastic blog we explored the best and worst of company benefit schemes. One target of ire was the modern trend for fancy offices that mask poor company cultures.
A nicely-designed office that gives you the freedom to move around and change up your scenery is a nice thing to have.
But some businesses are taking this idea in the wrong direction: introducing hot-desking schemes and dressing them up as a progressive grant of freedom. Names like ‘agile desking’ and ‘fresh-working’ (argh) are being introduced as mandatory policy, where nobody has a permanent desk, and you’re not even allowed to claim one with a coat on the back of the chair, let alone a photo of your kids.
It’s not so much an empowering moment of freedom for shackled employees - more of a tarted-up cost-saving measure. (Does the CEO have to participate in the same scheme, you have to wonder. It’d be interesting to hear why not.)
Working at the same desk every day is paradise for some, a prison for others.
So what do we need to consider when freeing folks from the shackles of a fixed desk? Where should they work instead?
Coworking spaces - the good and bad
Coinciding with the rise of flexible working culture is the increased proliferation of coworking spaces. With these you generally pay a daily, weekly, or monthly fee, and get access to a shared workspace. There’s said to be over 50 coworking spaces in Greater Manchester, and they’re popping up in smaller towns all over the country, too.
A coworking space is basically an office, usually with nicer aesthetics than traditional offices, that you’re not expected to sign a multi-year contract for. Popular in the freelance and startup world, they’re a great solution for growing service businesses that only need laptops, wifi and caffeinated workers to function.
But they’re far from perfect.
Naturally, by bringing together unconnected people into a shared space, you’re going to have differing expectations of what’s appropriate behaviour. There’s usually at least one noisemaker; perhaps some twerp who straps a headset on and spends two hours making endless calls about client agreements. And don’t get me started on the recruiters.
Then there’s the dogs. It’s fun seeing a cute pug run slide around on the smooth wooden floors with his little tongue flapping about. Until the yipping starts.
And I’m baffled by the fact that in a building populated exclusively by adults, some seem to have the toilet-training levels of an infant (although that's not a problem exclusive to coworking).
Coworking spaces are idealistically sold as places where community is built. Promo photos show beautiful, well-dressed people casually leaning on marble tables, next to Macbooks and macchiatos, laughing together and looking effortlessly cool.
The reality is, most of the time you’ll be surrounded by morose-looking dudes hunched over their laptops, headphones on, looking very much not in a social mood.
The only real socialising happens at organised events, whether they’re 'networking' or something else, where folks have an excuse to spark those random conversations that lead to genuine connection. (Message to coworking space organisers: community management is more important than putting kombucha in the fridge.)
That said, as easy as it is to criticise, I wouldn’t give up my coworking space.
Previously, I was hopping between Starbucks - which are noisy and distracting, with a smell that permeates your clothes for hours after you leave. And I swear they make the chairs purposely uncomfortable. Most of the Manchester branches have comfy sofa seats that have no backs, so you can’t lean backwards, and after an hour you can’t bear to sit there any more (the only alternative being hard wooden dining chairs - ouch). And you can’t blame them - someone nursing a coffee for 4 hours is taking up space that could be taken by multiple paying customers.
So having a dedicated space to sit down for 7-ish hours of guilt-free work, surrounded by like-minded folk, with free coffee on tap, is a joy that’s worth paying for. (And compared to 2 high-street coffees per day, plus the inevitable cakes, the price is easily comparable.)
So if traditional office space isn’t working for you & your employees, cafés are no good, and you don’t fancy a coworking space, how about going fully remote?
Going fully remote
If the majority of work in your company is done via laptop and phone, there’s no reason you can’t try it. Trials and transition periods are a great idea - this guide from Entrepreneur lays out the steps simply.
If you can organise projects successfully and implement policies and systems that work for everyone, it can certainly work. Regular meetings are a great idea, whether it’s a weekly get-together in a cafe or annual retreat to a faraway land. The lonesome remote worker usually jumps at a chance for human contact.
You could arrange a week in a coworking space for the team if you’ve got a particularly tricky project that needs working through. Video-call workers in if they’re too far away to join.
Timetastic is a fully remote organisation, and is doing pretty well for itself. Other leaders in the field are Buffer, Automattic, and Ghost (our blogging platform), among many others. It's clear that positive, inclusive company cultures can be cultivated in remote organisations, without sacrificing profitability.
Which brings us back to a familiar Timetastic mantra...
Creating the best place to work
It’s not so much the geography as the culture that makes the job enjoyable.
Meaningful work, challenging opportunities, and a respectful, friendly environment are what makes an organisation worth working for.
Add that to a proper annual leave policy, and your company will be a much more comfortable place to work - wherever you’re sitting.