Business can’t survive on diet of remote working - Chris Wilson

What happens if you eat nothing but McDonalds for 30 days? The answer of course was gruesomely demonstrated in the 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, by Morgan Spurlock. In this film he ate McDs three times a day for 30 days.
Chris Wilson ‘super sizes’ on a burgerChris Wilson ‘super sizes’ on a burger
Chris Wilson ‘super sizes’ on a burger

The result? Spurlock ballooned by 11.1 kg and 13% body fat. The damage was not just physical – his mental health and libido took a battering as well. Apparently, unwinding the impacts of this experiment took an extraordinary 14 months. This came to mind as I reflected on working practices as we emerge from the Covid fog.

I must confess to being a bit of a ‘foodie’ – certainly in the live to eat vs eat to live camp. Of course, food is about nutrition, however, the customs of food go much further than that. We shop and interact with each other – chance encounters to keep track of what’s going on in the world. We prepare food together, and perhaps take more time to hear how people we care about are keeping. We eat together as friends and family – laughing, crying, sharing and caring. Sometimes, it’s snatching a quick sandwich at Pret, sometimes it’s a planned all evening session. Occasionally, a chance encounter with friends becomes dinner and a moment to remember. In all, we deepen our connections and try to help each other.

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Is work not a bit like food? The way many people are having to do it at the moment is stripping away a lot of the customs that really makes us effective. With all the home/video working I hear conversations about ‘more focused’ or ‘more productive’ all the time, but are we really? Or, are we just consuming like Mr Spurlock?

If I reflect on the things I’ve been involved in that have had the biggest positive benefit for customers, few originated in a meeting about improving the customers experience. A TV show to help protect people being scammed on the back of a chance conversation with the forward-thinking CEO of a TV company. A new quick response vehicle to help people impacted by floods conceived in a supermarket car park in the midst of a storm. The satellite dish on the top of mobile banks on the back of a chance encounter with an old family friend who worked in IT and found a ‘work around’ for rather bureaucratic processes.

There is no question we have adopted some more efficient working practices in response to the pandemic. These new ways of working are a great ‘leveller’ and are certainly more convenient. Like convenience food though, we can’t survive on a diet of this alone.

If we do, I fear we will lose the important discoveries that are found in the space between meetings. The chance encounters, the hallway outside the meeting room or the team dinner. Just like in Super Size Me, if you only do one thing all the time, it becomes unhealthy.

We have been forced to ‘Super Size Meetings’ by the pandemic. Like Mr Spurlock, we need to bring balance back to our working lives and this will take time. I’ve heard a lot of talk about a ‘blended’ workforce, but not seen much detail on how that will work. This can’t just be splitting our time between home and the office. It needs more careful thought and planning on how this blend can practically be achieved – which it can be.

If not, I fear it will be like a dinner party with a few friends dialling in – it just won’t work and no-one will really enjoy it.

Chris Wilson, partner and co-founder, Opto Advisory

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