Comment: Places of work matter less than how we work together

The travel industry has proved that old norms aren’t always most effective, says Cosmos’ Giles Hawke

So we have various political and business leaders and a number of newspapers telling us that we all need to “get back to the office” and “get back to work”.

It does make me laugh when I read these comments and exhortations, because the travel industry has been pretty much working non-stop since the start of the pandemic, often for little or no money, and in a whole range of places.

People had to close their offices, shops and call centres and set up shop in lounges, bedrooms, cupboards, kitchens and sheds so that they could try to look after their customers and keep their businesses afloat.

Sure, some people were on furlough and then more were on flexi-furlough when it was introduced, but a vast swathe of industry folk continued to operate at full capacity, cancelling and rebooking holidays, dealing with business issues, raising financing, juggling funds and working with the regulatory bodies to just keep going.

So when I hear these cries that we need to “get back to work”, I begin to wonder what planet these people have been on over the past two years.

Any old-fashioned thought processes around “if you can’t see them they can’t be working” are now so demonstrably outdated that it is risible to hear them uttered.

It is clear that people in travel are ‘people people’. We like being around other people. We need that creative spark to come up with new ideas and help to resolve business challenges. We like face-to-face meetings and interaction and we need to know the people we are working with to build trust and ensure company culture is what we want it to be.

Working practices

We have equally benefited from new technologies and ways of working and we can be more efficient than ever with our time. We can balance work and personal life a bit better and we can do a lot more in the day without the interruptions and time-wasting that can be an unavoidable part of office life.

There are whole businesses founded and operating hugely successfully with people being home-based; there are successful businesses with hybrid working; and there are businesses where people work wholly from some sort of office or shop. There is no right or wrong in any of these models and no one-size-fits-all approach, but we should all recognise that different people work well within different types of organisation.

Indeed, one recent study shows that a hybrid working model is the one that creates the most employee engagement, followed by home-based working shortly behind and office working lagging a bit behind that.

Better connected

At the Globus family of brands, we have closed our Bromley offices completely and have everyone working from home. We are focused on strong communication, regular in-person meetings and an open and inclusive dialogue.

We have so many ways of ensuring we keep in touch that I think our team are better connected and know each other way better than when we had an office that people went into.

One of the upsides of the pandemic is that it has shown us there are different, and arguably better, ways of working: one being that we can trust people to work hard and do the right thing, whether we can see them or not.

It has also highlighted that the concept of travelling to a place of work to sit on a phone or work in front of a screen all day is outdated and that we can and should find better ways to engage with each other when we are in face-to-face situations.

So, next time you hear some pundit or Luddite tell you we should all be back in the office and back to work, it’s well worth remembering that the travel industry kept working without any offices for the best part of two years; that enlightened business leaders regard homeworking or hybrid working as a better model for staff engagement; and that what matters is the way we work together, the way we make each other feel and the way we work, not where we work each day.

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