While much has changed in the nearly 12 months since the start of lockdown, one thing remains the same: my unwavering belief in the role of the office in producing exceptional work.

Keith Breslauer

Keith Breslauer

Initially, there was a buzz about working from home being the future. Slack’s Future Forum reported that around three in 10 workers would never or rarely want to return to the office, and in a TalkTalk survey, 58% of worker respondents said they had been more productive while working from home. Last April, Barclays chief executive Jes Staley suggested that big City offices “may be a thing of the past” for banks.

If it is true that our productivity, ability to work with and learn from each other and the quality of our output have not been negatively impacted by working remotely, you may ask what the problem is.

Well, the problem is that four in 10 workers do want to go back to the old normal. “It’s remarkable it’s working as well as it is, but I don’t think it’s sustainable,” Staley said recently. Even if 100% of workers reported more productivity at home, we are missing the bigger picture.

The problem lies with our perception of productivity as a synonym for success.

Moving our interactions and teams to squares on a screen is not a relocation but a dislocation. A lot can get lost in the journey to ‘online only’. With more than 23 cultures and languages at Patron, we champion diversity and want to encourage flexibility that allows individuals to work in a way that works for them, but to mobilise this diversity we need to have the opportunity for real interaction.

The problem is our perception of productivity as a synonym for success

There are not the same learning opportunities, dynamism and team spirit without it. While we can learn from textbooks, the education that sticks with and shapes us is the one we receive by experience. Whether it is noticing a change in tone when someone guides a meeting, witnessing the impact of body language or being a part of a meeting where things have not gone to plan, we can learn so much through osmosis and being part of a community.

Our day-to-day vocabulary and expressions offer clues about the people who were important to us, personally or in our careers, through the sayings and approaches we have picked up.

If we spend our days primarily in one-sided conversations, we risk group-think. The Harvard Business Review reported that companies with proven diversity out-innovate and outperform others by creating an environment where ‘outside-the-box’ ideas are heard, and we have an open-plan office to facilitate this forum of collaboration and ideas. Without this, the quality of our output will not be as high, and this is the sticking point – even if productivity is maintained, is the quality of our work the same?

Productivity is neither the only nor the most important measure of success, but simply one of its components, alongside learning, engagement, commitment, innovation and community, all of which suffer because of remote working. If we lose these key drivers of performance, then this is a problem indeed.

Keith Breslauer is managing director of Patron Capital