It’s not often that a multi-national investment bank such as Goldman Sachs shares a common bond with another fine city institution – Pimlico Plumbers!
Given both operate in rather different circles, unless one of their bankers suffers a burst pipe or boiler breakdown, I must applaud its CEO David Solomon’s take on the importance of the office and its pivotal role in our return to post-pandemic normality.
This week he underlined his faith in its benefits by announcing plans to open a new office in Birmingham, which will eventually accommodate several hundred staff.
He recognises that Goldman Sachs requires an innovative and collaborative culture to thrive, and that means its staff operating as a team rather than in isolation.
My own business has worked throughout the pandemic, and we have only had a very few people operating from home due to shielding requirements.
However, it’s not all about improving creativity, efficiency and encouraging greater productivity.
This week I was also chatting to one of my own people who has returned to the office having worked from home for the best part of a year due to a heightened risk of contracting Covid-19.
They described how isolated they had felt at home – staring at the same four walls and laptop every day, and how they missed that simple everyday human contact.
They told me: “Being back inside the main part of the company has been something of a mental release after spending so much time alone. I felt so Isolated, but now I’m part of things again and don’t feel so remote and out of the loop.
“It’s not just a work thing, it’s the human contact. Just to be able to talk to and joke about with colleagues on breaks is making life much more enjoyable. I still need to be careful and keep up with the distancing, but to be able to communicate with people face to face is a wonderful feeling.”
My own view is that Pimlico is a family-run firm that operates on family values and that culture is best promoted by having everyone back in the office, wherever possible.
It’s not just about saving a few quid on office rent or heating bills – businesses need to consider the negative long-term effects on their people.
There’s no doubt the many millions up and down the country have helped keep businesses and our economy afloat by working from their bedrooms, spare rooms, and dining room tables.
But large parts of London have been deserted as hordes of commuters continue to stay away. While those who are vulnerable should continue to isolate where appropriate, now is the time to get back on track.
This will boost other areas of our economy, from sandwich and coffee shops to convenience stores, places that depend upon the vital office trade.
Several institutions have already gone on record as saying they want to continue the practice of remote working or introducing a home-office hybrid arrangement.
David Solomon has already branded this vision an “aberration”, saying it does not suit Goldman Sachs’ innovative and collaborative culture.
It’s worth making the point that many who worked from home initially enjoyed the freedom, flexibility, and lack of a commute. But in many cases, this gave way to stress caused by working in isolation, which in turn led to poor motivation, burnout, and problems created by poor communication.
Businesses have learnt many lessons over the past 12 months – not least how to create Covid-safe spaces through social distancing and effective hygiene measures.
Many might feel resistant to a return to the office, given that they have now grown accustomed to working from home.
However, we must restore that sense of community that has been sadly lacking from our lives for far too long – and to start to get this country motoring again. Something that both financiers and tradespeople definitely agree on!