Just over two months ago, I started a new job - I'm now "Protocol Droid" at Threads Styling, working on messaging systems. It's an amazing scaling start-up, and I'm delighted to have joined right at this moment of growth.
When I took the job, I knew that - like many exciting new start-ups - they'd have some quirky new ideas I'd have to try and get used to. One of these for me was spending two months working in their permanent co-located working space in London.
For many workers, the place of work is fixed. You can't be a shop assistant anywhere but the shop. You can't be a chef outside the kitchen. But for office workers - people doing administrative, creative, or technical work - there's no reason to work anywhere specific for most of the time.
Over the past two decades, I've worked mostly from home. Of course, sometimes my team has wanted to do some high-intensity collaboration - in which case we'd find a co-working space and get together. But for the day-to-day work, we'd be working in our own space.
Threads, though, has a permanent co-working space shared by all its UK staff. Called an "office" - presumably after the office work performed in it - its staff are there all the time. Even when they don't need to be collaborating so closely with others in the team.
Having done a deep dive for two months, though, I'm back in my home "office", and thinking about the differences.
A problem shared
My biggest revelation was also the most obvious. A shared environment is shared. All the way. And that means every facility is shared, and therefore every resource has contention. I had to queue to make a cuppa. Sometimes all the toilet cubicles were taken. Once the internet failed - for the entire company at the same time.
When everyone works from home, everyone has a dedicated internet connection. A dedicated kitchen. A dedicated toilet, even. It would be extraordinarily wasteful to do this in a shared environment, of course - but it falls out naturally when people work from home.
Ease of Collaboration
Working from home, quick conversations with a colleague are easy enough - slap on the headset and reach for a video-call. Arranging a chat with more than one gets progressively harder, though.
In an "office", your colleagues are literally all around you. For a quick word, it's easy to just ask them. You can glance around the office and easily see if people are about for a broader chat. But of course, there's a price paid here - nobody else can "hear" your video calls from home, but everyone in the office can hear your quick word, and it's more than a little distracting.
Having a chat across the entire tech team was so easy it's a real danger that a conversation between two of us would cascade across the entire room, disrupting everyone's work. You couldn't just reject the call.
As a result, for proper meetings, we'd leave the main room and go find a meeting room, which meant taking on disruption ourselves. This was great for those times when a burst of intensive collaboration was what was needed - less good for a quick, but detailed, chat, since all those extra screens had to be left behind.
An unequivocal win, though, is the social aspects of being co-located all the time. Normally, you'd combine a social event with a co-located day - but if you're always co-located, then those opportunities are always present.
The odd drink after work becomes commonplace, and the tech team is often found in the cafe area playing a card game.
It helps that I work with a really nice bunch of people, of course.
Home Sweet Home
But overall, home wins as a working environment. Beyond having dogs (and, after school, college, and jobs, my family) around, having a comfortable dedicated environment that's set up just how I like it is really important for me.
That said, the benefits of that easy collaboration - and great social times, too - aren't lost on me, and I'll be looking forward to making the trek over to London much more frequently than I expected.
Yes, yes. I know most people don't work from home. But most articles about working from home are written as though it's the exception, and not the rule. From my perspective, it really is the norm to work from home unless you've a reason to do otherwise.
And there are some really significant benefits to it - as well as downsides to working in an office that you might not have even realised if you've never thought about the alternative.
I'd highly recommend that every tech team sets itself up to fully enable distributed teams. Threads is headed that way, and I'll try to write some articles about the steps we take to improve that.
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