Back when we all moved around out offices freely and working from home was something that was done on an infrequent basis by a handful of us, we all had plenty of opportunities to engage with our colleagues. Whether it was office gossip shared whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, catching up with a colleague about what happened last night on “I’m a Celeb” or the chance to talk to a senior director over the water cooler, we as a nation are missing out on these casual daily interactions with our peers. The Collins Dictionary defines a water cooler moment as being able to ‘provide subject matter for conversations’ and the Urban dictionary defines it as ‘a significant moment in TV history that is discussed the next day in the workplace’.
Many of us who have worked in large offices know that the water cooler or the tea room used to be areas for people to congregate and have an informal catch-up. The question is – with more and more of us working from home, using Teams or Zoom, will this end these casual “water cooler moment”?
It turns out, in a recent speech about the pandemic, that Andy Haldan, Bank of England’s chief economist, thinks working from home could stifle creative thought. He stated that ‘Informal chats at work were often more useful than formal meetings’. When asked about his own experience of working from home Mr Haldan felt he was missing out on contact with colleagues and that “creative sparks” were being “dampened”.
In a time when an employer’s immediate focus will be on making working places Covid secure, and supporting people via technology, in working from home, it’s easy to see how the true effects of long term remote access might not be immediately apparent. Most people are social creatures by nature, and in roles where teamwork is key, many employees receive a huge benefit in seeing people face to face. How much information is passed colleague to colleague, informally before a team meeting even starts in the tea room?
It’s worth noting that whilst most employees do not relish the daily commute, the benefits of seeing other colleagues in person, having different opinions, different experience, can create an environment that is more conducive to productivity and creativity. It is also well-established that exposure to new and different experiences – sounds, smells, environments, ideas, people – is a key source of creative spark. The report by the Bank of England notes that whilst working from home will be a different experience for different employees (some may thrive), the happiness rating for some demographics had dropped. There were lowest amongst several sectors – unsurprisingly young people being one of them.
We may well see in the future that the novelty of working from home wears off and that most people who work in offices need the stimulus of other colleagues to keep them motivated, happy, and creative.
Read the full Bank of England report.