Published Thursday 28th January 2021

Instead of concentrating on my A Levels I discovered pubs, girls and old Italian cars.

And so it followed in August 1990 whilst most of my friends were off to university, I was joining the Accounts Payable team of a recently privatised water company – whilst retaking my exams at Nightschool (Does Nightschool still exist?)

On my first day I was presented with a green-screen computer the size of a small fridge and a telephone with a rotary dial; Later on I was introduced to the literal mountains of unmatched paper invoices it was my role to reconcile against “stuff” printed by dot-matrix on a foot high pile of thin stripy listing paper.

A day later I learned that in order to send a message to someone else in the office (or another one of our 30 offices) I should ask a secretary to type a memo on a piece of paper, place it in an orange internal envelope and whisk it off to the internal post room whence it would be processed and distributed by one of the hundreds of colleagues whose sole purpose was to wheel trolleys round all day dispatching orange envelopes.

The whole of my working life, and the working lives of everyone else variously employed in law, accounting, wealth management and construction consultancy revolved around the office. Because it had to.

Yet, even now with the abundance of technology now available at our fingertips, the virtual elimination of the sweaty two-hour commute, the eradication of interruptions and irritating colleagues there are still those who believe a wholesale return to office culture is just round the corner.

It’s really not.

If you work in central London, but can’t afford to live there it’s likely you have 10 hours extra each week that you used to spend commuting. That’s more than a working day. If, like me, your work used to take you all over the country then your productivity has probably gone through the roof.

Of course there are downsides. We all miss physical human contact. The impact on the young lucky enough to have landed a training contract in law or accountancy yet without hands-on mentoring or learning-by-osmosis cannot be understated – particularly if you’re incarcerated in a city-centre flat and literally working on your lap (top).

But the implications for how you organise and manage the back office are huge. You definitely don’t need as much floorspace; the floorspace you have clearly never needed to contain hundreds of linear metres of filing capacity; the minimum volume printer agreements you may have must never be repeated; if you’re spending only 20% of your stationery budget now – why on Earth would that increase once Lockdown is over.

The transition to the “part-time office” will not be painless. Nor will it necessarily be quick due to your existing contractual and lease obligations, but it will happen.
We’re already working with hundreds of organisations on this transformation. And we’d love to explore how we can assist your firm.

About the Author: Jason Adderley, joined ERA after a 15-year career in the commercial property development and investment industry, and works with a diverse client base comprising solicitors, actuaries, chambers, patent attorneys, accountants, surveyors, consulting engineers and recruitment consultants.

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