The first is the workplace as a social destination. “Let’s embed that. Let’s come in for meals, to celebrate the annual report as well as somebody’s birthday. Let’s make it constructively social. Don’t make it about pointless meetings and pointless presenteeism.”
The second is learning, and specifically inter-generational learning. She has identified two groups of workers: leavers and learners. The former are older, more experienced and less tied to the office – they may be married or have families, they may have moved away during the pandemic, or have additional caring roles.
But they are skilled, responsible and senior, and do not need to come into the office regularly; spending intense periods in the workplace – a week every month or so – may be more suitable. In contrast, learners are more suited to regular office working. “They know nothing: these are the newbies, the green shoots. They’re like babies – and babies need to stay in one place. So, you design a situation where there are immersive learners with drop-in leavers.”
The final function of an office is conflict – as Hobsbawm says, “It’s not a good thing to do on Zoom. What I call disagreeing, somebody else may call brainstorming: figuring out, unpacking, unpicking. But conflict resolution – whether that’s creative or hostile – ask any trade union, any diplomat, you’ve got to get round the table.”
“We’re all in this together,” Hobsbawm argues. “It’s not that I’m a utopian, or that I believe you can do away with structures, systems and hierarchies, or capitalism. I’m not a fantasist. But when you decide where, when and how people work because you’ve answered why they work, then that’s really exciting. The sky is the limit.”