Here’s the good, the bad and the unknown about working from home

Linda J. Dodson

Standing back from these changes one important theme emerges. We have had to let go of some of our time-honoured product selection processes – with all their checks and balances – and we have empowered individuals and small teams to make more decisions outside of the corporate machine. For many, this has been liberating and the best people have increased and improved their creative output. With hindsight, it appears that the corporate machine was supporting the inexperienced and the less able, but holding back the strong.

The Bad

By far the biggest problem with home working has been the lack of spontaneous conversations between colleagues. We have missed the chance conversations, unplanned questions, the ability to learn from colleagues, along with the training and camaraderie that the office provides. At its best, an office can be a cauldron for new ideas and enhanced collaboration.

Where problem solving requires large groups to work together, video calls have proved unwieldy, frustrating and inefficient. Worst of all perhaps, large video calls have encouraged the proliferation of one of the business world’s most damaging practices – death by deck: slideshow presentations that transform meetings from productive exchanges of ideas into boring, one-way lectures; with the “presenters” rattling through bullet points already visible to their stultified audience.

The Unknown – Home working going forward

It is too early to judge how much working from home will become a permanent feature of life going forward. It will vary from department to department, job to job and person to person. Ultimately there will be a balance between home and office working; finding that balance will take time and care.

We will avoid edicts from the boardroom that impose a one-size-fits-all solution for working from home. Instead, we will allow the balance between working from home and in the office to evolve over time, allowing each functional area (Buying, Design, Systems Development, etc) to work its way towards the optimum working practices for its particular needs and its particular people. We will, however, set out some very clear simple principles which we expect people to follow when determining the balance between home and office working – above all else we need to be clear that the business must come first.

Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise is chief executive of Next

This is an edited extract from the Chief Executive’s Review in Next’s  results for the six months to July 2020

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