I'm a long-term fan of flexible working. I’ve never been at my most productive before 10.00am and, following an afternoon lull, nearly always feel most alert and energetic from about 4.00pm to 7.30pm.n
So why does the office stubbornly persist as our preferred work forum given the many valid alternatives that now exist? Why do these alternatives remain complementary rather than substitutional? There are a thousand answers. But two of them reside in Daniel Pink's brilliant study on human motivation at work, which he distils into three key components: autonomy, mastery, purpose.
In many ways, too much autonomy can actually restrict the opportunity for mastery and purpose. Most of what we learn at work – most of our mastery – isn't formally taught and can't be relayed remotely. It involves watching people in action, in meetings, in pitches, in argument, in agreement, in corridors, in pubs and in restaurants, in front of clients, in defeat and in victory. It is very difficult to get this training sitting at home in your onesie logged on to a webinar or video conference. Or, worse still, disappearing down the wormhole of social media, where the illusion of friendship and heterogeneity can, in the words of Eli Pariser (The Filter Bubble), leave us inhabiting a "ghetto of one".
Purpose, even more than mastery, is a collective and contextual endeavour. You know instinctively when entering a building whether there is unity of purpose and a true team spirit. Such an atmosphere is irreplaceable and hard-won. Not all offices can necessarily hit these highs, but they can all play a vital role in building a sense of common purpose and belonging. And, if they don't, you can always have fun undermining the management that's making a mess of things. Counterculture can become a purpose all of its own – which is really what drove most of the humour at Wernham Hogg, right down to the jellied stapler.
Harold Kushner famously quipped: "No-one said on their deathbed: 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.'" Perhaps so. But this assumes decades of enjoying all the benefits an office brings. There may be a remote generation coming through who take a rather different view.