Let’s begin this week in Foot Locker. Figuratively, not literally: my boys would be in A&E with hysterics if they thought I was buying anything in there. Unless it was for them, in which case…
So I’m not shopping, I’m more interested in the views of Richard Johnson, CEO of Foot Locker and a man who believes “you can wear sneakers every single day.”
“I have my wedding sneakers,” he told the BBC. “My baptism sneakers – I even have my funeral sneakers because I’m getting older and you’ve got to have the right shoes.”
You can guess what Mr Johnson wears in the office, and he makes a serious point: “as people go back [to the office] I think their wardrobe will change.” He’s absolutely certain: we’re set not for the ‘new normal’ – but for the ‘new casual.’
But it won’t just be the new casual. What other developments are we likely to see as the UK gradually returns to the office?
I thought I’d make a few suggestions…
Bill Clinton famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Ed Reid not-so-famously says, “It’s the output” – and is too polite to add the last word.
It’s a principle Mags and I have long espoused: it’s your output that’s important, not your input. It’s not how many hours you’re seen to be in the office, but what you achieve that counts.
It seems inevitable – and simple common-sense – that more and more companies will adopt this approach. Forward-thinking employers – who recognise that after the pandemic staff will rightly be more focused on their work/life balance – are going to attach far less importance to members of their team being visible 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.
As far as we’re concerned, if members of the head office team want to start their working day at home, and then come into the office once the traffic has died down, that’s fine.
…And having mentioned ‘the office’ this may be the right time to confirm what many people already know. Later this year we’ll be moving to new offices in the centre of Leeds. The exact date hasn’t been finalised – but we’re expecting some time around late summer.
Along with flexible hours, I think we’ll see a lot more ‘flexible workspace.’ The new TAB office will give everyone four options if they want to take their laptop – and/or a colleague – to a different area for part of the day. I’ve long been a believer that in order to think differently you need to be somewhere different. We’ll firmly enshrine that principle in the new office.
I’m encouraged by the fact that members of the team want to come back into the TAB office. They’ve missed face-to-face meetings and – like everyone – they’ve missed the collaboration that comes with being in the same workplace.
As Steve Jobs famously said, “the best ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in corridors.” Jobs was a fierce advocate of the chance meeting between say, an engineer and a designer.
Hopefully, the ‘return to the office’ will see spaces that are more open, and more conducive to these chance meetings. Having spent a year or more at our kitchen tables, I doubt that many of us will be closing our office doors – which can only be good for business.
The last trend I think we’ll see is a blurring between work and social. This goes back to the point I made about output. Our new office will be in the centre of Leeds: both Mags and I will be able to connect with more of our friends after work. There’ll be more opportunities to do things with the head office team. Will business opportunities flow from this? Of course they will: not because we’re looking for them, but simply as a function of being out and about and meeting more people.
The last 15 months have unquestionably been difficult. But there are now real signs of optimism and recovery and, I think, a determination to ‘build back better.’ I hate to borrow a phrase from a politician, but the pandemic has given us a chance to think, to press the re-set button and to make positive changes in the way we work.
Unsurprisingly, a recent survey from the IoD showed that business confidence was the highest it has been for five years. Consumer confidence has stayed resilient despite the recent delay to ‘Freedom Day.’
So I’m not just optimistic, I’m excited. It’s almost like we’ve been given the chance to re-design the way we do business. I’m determined that TAB UK will seize the opportunity with both hands.