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Remote working and the high street coffee shop

David Cornwell, Head of Enterprise B2B Solution Design at O2, reflects on the rise of the remote workforce and the need for a decent cup of coffee.

I was standing in my local coffee shop this morning waiting for my flat white and taking in the bustling environment of the thirty or so customers around me. Two things struck me:

  1. Almost no one was here just to drink coffee or to socialise. Almost everyone was either having a business meeting or was busy working at their laptop.
  2. I needed a seat, I had a blog to write, and I wondered why all these people didn’t have an office to go to!

Back at the start of my career about 18 years ago I remember people talking about the ‘coffee shop culture’, but I don’t remember them being used as places of work until much more recently.

So what has changed? Is the nature of the work we do today so different to back then?

The answer to the second question is probably no, at least, not yet. However many new business models or market-redefining digital services emerge, our work still largely involves people interacting, communicating and creating with other people. What is changing, however, is the way in which we work.

Being at work doesn’t have to mean being in the office any more. Work is something we do, not somewhere we go. As long as we can communicate and collaborate effectively, we can work anywhere. But just because we can, it doesn’t mean that we should. It might seem tempting to equip everyone with a laptop and mobile, and send them home, but I think it fails to take account of two critical factors:

1. Flexibility

Firstly, everyone is different. Whatever the advantages of remote or flexible working, it doesn’t suit everybody. And even those whom it does suit, it doesn’t suit them all of the time. The key is flexibility for both the individual and the work itself. This very blog post is a case in point. Personally, I find it almost impossible to concentrate on a piece of writing in silence, and this coffee shop delivers the optimum background noise and bustle. But if I have calls to make, or an online meeting to attend, I tend to need complete silence.

So for remote or mobile working to be truly effective, we need to create a flexible working culture and then leave it to each individual to decide how they work best.

2. Technology or culture?

It’s understandable to think of technology as the route to flexible working, but there is more to it than that. Just as we no longer expect our cars to break down in the way that they used to, so we have come to expect that technology will support us, and enable us to work and communicate effectively wherever we happen to be.

The real hero is not technology but culture. It’s the culture that allows us to work flexibly, the culture that resists dragging everyone into the office for a meeting that could be held remotely, the culture that doesn’t reward or favour the person who is still at the office long after everyone else has gone home.

If we are to embed remote or flexible working effectively we should begin by focusing attention on the working culture. For any organisation other than a start up, culture is deep-seated, hard to change and requires leadership from every level in order the change it.

Time to close the office altogether?

It’s worth asking whether the business that champions flexibility and that establishes a culture encouraging remote and flexible working really needs office premises at all. Whatever your own view, I’m not advocating that we ditch the office quite yet. It represents your brand, for starters, and it’s also an important social hub for your people. For example, personally, I use my limited office time to meet, interact and socialise with my colleagues. I’ve discovered just how much more productive I am if I focus on meetings and collaboration on office days, and leave the ‘real work’ for when I’m at home, or sitting here in this coffee shop.

The coffee’s better too.

If you’re looking for a partner who can help you to overcome both of these challenges then O2 can certainly support you. We’ve been on this journey ourselves over a number of years and we have the technology solutions to help you, whether that means managing your mobile devices securely or providing the communication and collaboration tools to enable your people to work remotely. We can also share our own experiences of making the cultural leap to a modern, flexible workforce and provide the consultancy and insight to help you understand how this might work for your business.


Just reach out and we can help. You can connect with me via LinkedIn.

And don’t forget, you can pick up a free cup of coffee with Priority every Tuesday and Wednesday, at Caffe Nero.

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