We’ve all seen the government edicts about getting back to work ‘The Pret Effect’ and all that. And all of that is more than valid. Equally as valid are the reasons why people are not ready to head back to the office and organisations are holding off from getting their employees back to the office: obviously Covid-19 concerns but also the fact that employees have more flexibility, the fact that the C-Suite have finally realised that employees can work remotely and they’re not ‘dossing’, no ridiculously cramped commuting, the crazy cost of office space etc etc.
Having chosen to quit the full-time corporate life two years ago I’m more than an advocate of flexible working. Yet I had a benefit that ‘new to the workplace’ employees won’t have if we don’t return … Life-long friendships, networking and coaching.
I first joined the corporate life in 2001 in Birmingham. It was at one of the world’s largest banks and from a friendship / relationship point of view here’s a snapshot of what happened in that time from when I was there to when I moved to the London office:
- The first person I ever managed became my best friend.
- I ended up living with a colleague years later and living our best fun lives together in our early 30s. She now lives round the corner from me.
- I met my two best male friends. We may live in the three Great Britain capitals now but every year (bar this year) we go to festivals to escape!
- I became friends with one of the above’s sisters and was subsequently bridesmaid at her wedding.
- I became great friends with my first boss, and we get together once a year in London town.
- One colleague introduced me to my then boyfriend – that relationship lasted over 7 years. I’m still friends with the original colleague despite that!
- I became a serial recruiter for one colleague who became one of my best friends. I was the one who found her perfect job and continue to act as a mentor as does she to me. She’s also my dog’s legal guardian!
- One of my current roles is working for a colleague / friend who I first worked with on a project at that company.
There are many more just from that one company alone.
A few weeks ago I was on a zoom call with one of my ex Group HR Directors and an HR Director – it wasn’t work related, we’ve all left that company – we were just catching up over wine – as friends. My ex-colleague and friend Karen brought up the subject that work is as much about relationships as it is about income. Proof in point – we’re all on a call together. In fact, last year, Karen, myself and another colleague joined our ex HR Director on her 50th birthday party in Somerset.
Another of my ex HR Directors now lives in Bahrain and another colleague (friend) and I went to visit her a couple of years ago. When the world goes back to some kind of normal, we’ll be there again.
I keep in touch with the CEO I used to work for, and we go for drinks every five or so months. Working in Internal Comms it’s always your role to protect the reputation of the C-Suite with employees and from day one I had the best working relationship with him and I believe that honesty is what moved us on to just be able to chat freely and that continued when I left and when subsequently he did.
I have what’s app groups with my old team. We chat about everything from tv programmes to me still providing advice on occasion.
A few years ago, I had an acrimonious break up with the aforementioned ex. I wouldn’t have survived without my work colleagues at the time, especially my boss who gave me the biggest support ever and has gone on to be a huge advocate of mine. In addition, my PA at the time was and continued to be my protector for all the issues that followed and to this day we’re in contact every week (mainly about our reality tv obsessions!)
There’s a group of four of us who became a ‘unit’ when working at my last permanent job. I can’t imagine life without them – it transcends far more than the job (and we’ve all left there now).
Since taking the decision to leave corporate life in 2018 I’ve ALWAYS got work via referral of the people I have worked for and with, in the past. All the people I’ve mentioned above (and more) are sounding boards for discussion, they’re referees for new work, they’re the voice of reason and new ideas. They are coaches and mentors. And likewise, as a ‘long-termer’ of FTSE office life so am I – it’s a leader’s greatest achievement if they can help their people to succeed and provide a positive and memorable working experience.
Those relationships are not built on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. They’re based on face-to-face contact, the water cooler moment, the conference when you get to know the person you’ve been on the phone to so many times, the moment when you just know your colleague is having a bad day and you recognise that and take them for a coffee or a wine and put your arms (metaphorical or not) around them and of course when they do that for you.
‘Other’ friends will never be able to join in the end of the week post work beers when you totally slam what’s happened or celebrate the good times – and those human interactions are incredibly important. You used to spend around eight hours a day with work colleagues, way more than your other friends and family. Your colleagues are the ones who get to know your moods and what’s happening in your life and can be the de-stressers of that. And ultimately, they can become your best friends and biggest cheerleaders. And that is why in my opinion that people need to get back to the office – even if just for a couple of days a week.