London Needs You – And You Need London!

Jason Gale, founder of the London Lifestyle Awards® shares this open letter on why our capital city must continue to thrive…

Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken part in numerous discussions, whether on esteemed radio station LBC or across our now-favoured interface Zoom, about what the future London will look like now that many advantages of working from home have been discovered.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work and passions, as the founder of the London Lifestyle Awards® and as a lifestyle communications consultant, I have to disclose my vested interest before presenting my following argument – or at least my strong view. Industries, such as hospitality, arts and health & beauty, within London need workers to return to London in order to prevent a very different future than the one they were expecting when at work back in 2019.

However, I don’t believe that the vast majority of workers will go back to the office for non-selfish reasons, like saving their local coffee shop, restaurant or hair salon. When push comes to shove, we all make decisions on how we spend our time from a selfish point of view, or – if we do not have autonomy – our bosses’ point of view. Many who are reading this, or who I have engaged with on this subject matter over the last few months, have proved successfully that productivity from the spare bedroom or kitchen table can be as fruitful as from a desk in Cannon Street or Berkeley Square. There may be a few exceptions – there always are- but the broader picture shows this to be exactly the case. The numerous radio shows I have listened to since March, to try and understand others’ thoughts, always tell the story of someone who has achieved great success and career advancement from their kitchen table alongside those who have been left behind by not having the many advantages of a communal work space somewhere in our great city.

There are, I believe, many reasons why workers will want to go back to the office. It might be that business owners will opt for the majority of their team’s time to be spent together in a work space for the most people, yet I don’t think we will go back a 5-day-week, fighting through the same daily commute as before. but I believe we will not be a world leading city/ country by continuing our socially distanced working. 

We are Social Animals

Here’s the first thing to consider… In normal times, if we spend half of our weekday waking time in the workplace, this is where we have most of our social interactions. This is the place that we come across most people, often from different life experiences and different backgrounds. If we decide to remove this and work from home for the majority of the time, how do we replace this? Will replacing this still create issues? Let’s say we have a married person who leaves the family home every day to go to the workplace; they spend 8 hours at work, interacting with 20 – 30 people on an average day – how does they replace that social interaction? If they’ve a busy family, I’m sure it wouldn’t be acceptable to spend all day (as expected) working at home and then, in order to see other adults and have the social interaction that humans rely on, use the evenings to go to the pub, dance classes or gyms. While they can normally count on this in work, heading out night after night would not be conducive to a healthy family environment. Imagine spending the whole day working and every other minute only spent with the family. I believe that removing the role of work place in proving social interactivity will actually put more stress on families, creating a desire or need to spend more evening and weekend time away from the family unit in order to satisfy this very basic human requirement.

Social Working Creates Empathy

As someone who has always had businesses, I have combined working from home and office spaces over the last 30 years. I often work alongside other business in my role as a consultant. Often, like most people during our working lives, I have come across people that I believe are not my type. This could be due to a poor telephone conversation, a curt email or misunderstanding on a piece of communication.

I remember one such instance, back in 2014, where I was working with a particular business as a consultant and I was clashing regularly with one of their executives, both online and on the phone. I believed them to be cold and unpassionate about the business and the projects we were working on. As we neared some deadlines, I decided to pick up my laptop and go work from their office for a week to try and ensure there were no further problems at a critical time. By the end of the first day, I realised I had completely misread this person completely. They were not lacking passion for any of the projects we were undertaking and, furthermore, they were not cold. They were funny, very hard working and enthusiastic; the only problem they had was that they were a poor communicator, struggling on the phone and email. They were played a part of what they thought they should be like but, by sharing an office with them, I discovered the real them and the fantastic abilities they had. Working closer to them created an empathy that would never have been developed over email, phone or video conferencing. 

Adopting Company Culture and Values

Many businesses have a way of doing things; they have values and cultures that are integral to both the history and future of the businesses. It’s what they stand for and it’s how they want their customers to see them. Most seasoned professionals working these companies understand this and the behaviours and languages reflect it, without it being too taxing to deliver. This is because they have been learnt over time – by being a junior member of the business it was learnt by osmosis; by spending time within the culture influences and guardians of the businesses. But what of the trainee, the junior that joined the business in April 2020? How would they learn the culture? Can this be learnt across Zoom team meetings, or is it easier by causally and unconsciously observing the day-to-day behaviours in a shared space.

Creativity

I consider myself a very creative person. I have many ideas and I delight in my attempts to implement them. Looking back over my creative successes, most of my best ideas have come from my experiences with other people. Often hearing a throwaway comment or idea that sparks a better one, or hearing someone’s difficulties or needs can spark the solution side of my brain to kick into gear. I believe that online brainstorming will never produce the creativity that people gathered in a room can deliver. In my experience – and I have tried it several times over the past year – online collaboration and creative sessions produce very measured responses with participants overly conscious of how their ideas or suggestions will be received. I believe this is because of a rationing of social cues that, in person, usually gives rise to increased confidence that can bring about suggestions of even the most outlandish of ideas. If we continue to try and use online tools to start the creative process, I believe we will, sooner or later, see a decline in success as the creativity drains away from our screens.

If we can outsource to Kent, why not Mumbai?

After reading Tim Ferriss’s ‘5-Hour Work Week’ over a decade ago, I have outsourced many tasks to countries around the world. I have a database built in the Philippines and webpages built in Croatia, using platforms that make this transaction both easy and safe. This has allowed me to expand my business, getting more bang for my buck. I have learnt, over the years, that there are skills that can be acquired extremely cheaply from other parts of the world. This paragraph is a word of warning really. For those of you that are canvassing their bosses to continue the work from home culture after lockdown is over, be assured that if the work can be outsourced to you in your kitchen in Kent, it is just as easy and half the cost to outsource your role to Mumbai.

Togetherness

The new balance will create more togetherness on the days that people are together. As I mentioned earlier in this piece, I’m not advocating or expecting a 5-day-a-week return to the work place. I think what I am suggesting is a 3/4-day office week. I think this will give people the best of both worlds. Having a shortened office week will allow us the opportunity to enjoy our work colleagues more; it will remove the pressure of some office annoyances that come with any close relationships and it will also create a healthier balance for the people you spend your home life with.

The last 11 months have been hugely difficult for lifestyle businesses and many in our great city of London are fearful for their future. Friends of mine have lost businesses; we have seen iconic places close, which I find incredibly regretful and sad. But I do see a very bright future for those that can survive this, what we hope will be, the final lockdown. I think more than any other time, the general public appreciate their hairdressers, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. They have realised the importance, not just for the economy, but the role that these businesses play in our lives. Most of us are already dreaming about our first glass of wine in a beautiful restaurant, a pint in the pub, an exercise class at the gym, or double chocolate chip latte with friends in the local coffee shop. In London, these experiences have been absolutely priceless over the last 20-30 years, even if we have taken them for granted. However, not anymore -at long last, we will really appreciate them.

Even if workers do go down to 2 or 3 days a week, rather than 5 in London, I don’t think this will have too damaging an effect on our lifestyle businesses. I believe London days will just be longer and, when in London for fewer days, lunch will be more likely taken in the local restaurant or drinks and dinner enjoyed in the evening before the last train home. The spend in lifestyle businesses across a week may be the same post lockdown as in 2019, simply spread out over a few days. If managed correctly, this could actually increase profitability for many businesses.

London, over the last few decades, has gone from strength to strength. Over the centuries, it is a city that has reinvented itself many, many times. There are some good things that have emerged from home working but, in general, I don’t think permanent, everyday home working will help the prospects of businesses or individual careers. As humans, we are built to work together. For your good and for London’s good, that should not be at a distance.

Written by Jason Gale

Jason Gale an expert marketeer of nearly 30 years and 10 years ago founded  the London Lifestyle Awards® & The British Lifestyle Awards® to celebrate the best of hospitality, the arts, health & fitness and beauty, which have now attracted over two million public votes.

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