Welcome to the new Wild West, formerly known as your workplace - Rob Aberdein

Before the pandemic, we pretty much all knew that work was not only what we did, but the place where we went to do it. During lockdown, we all knew that - frontline staff aside - work was what we did while remaining in our homes.

In both cases, there was a reassuring certainty about the nature of work. Now it feels like everything is up in the air, up for grabs, in flux.

There seem to be as many hybrid working solutions as there are people to ask – so who is going to give us our “return to the office report card”? Or are we just destined to keep struggling through until time eventually tames this new and unruly frontier?

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This is the dilemma facing every employer. For two years we have been bombarded by articles, talking heads and opinion pieces telling us that the office as we knew it has been consigned to the dustbin of history. That remote, flexible and hybrid working is the only future.

Rob Aberdein is Managing Partner of Simpson & Marwick, now also the public face of Moray Group, a professional services venture launched in 2020

However, in the Wild West, it was always difficult to tell the silver-tongued snake oil salesman from the Levi Strauss-style visionary spotting opportunity in times of transition. For every hardworking shovel salesman or homesteader just getting on, there was a yahooing gunsel or card sharp exploiting uncertainty.

These are uncertain times when everything we thought we knew has been trampled as thoroughly as if under the hooves of stampeding steer.

As an example, If that hard-pressed parent is delivering productivity miracles thanks to flexible working, does that single 20-something who lives within walking distance of the office really need two remote working days per week to take care of “life admin”?

In true Wild West fashion, wherever an employer looks, they will get contradictory answers. Certainty seems further away than it did even at the outset of the pandemic.

For every serious article which suggests that a return to office helps dedicated workers to build important and long-lasting relationships to advance their careers, there is another which says the “office suck up” will prosper at the expense of hard-grafting home workers.

Elsewhere, research suggests that the very bosses who are exhorting staff to return to the workplace are the very same people who are embracing flexibility for themselves. It sounds like a classic case of do as I say, not as I do style double standards.

While we’ve all been affected by Zoom fatigue, now experts are telling us that meetings by video could be crushing creativity. Lab research suggests that in-person meetings yield far more colourful, inventive and innovative ideas than those conducted via screen.

If you’re looking for someone to pin a five-pointed star to their chest, pull the brim of their hat low and tell you with absolute certainty about the law in this frontier town, I’m afraid I’m not your man.

However, with a number of weeks of being back in the office under my belt, I have a few observations:

Firstly, there is so much opportunity and loads of new business being done. I’d forgotten how important it is to meet people to pitch for new business. We have welcomed more new clients in the last two months than in the last two years.

Without a doubt, having colleagues back in the workplace also helps in terms of cross-selling and maximising opportunities. Those chats over a coffee, overheard conversations, or introductions to visiting clients are highly impactful.

When it comes to more junior members of the team, I’ve also realised just how much learning is done by watching and listening to colleagues. I’m starting to worry that we may well have people who will be missing two years’ worth of development. We need to work on filling that gap.

Our people are brilliant. I always knew that but observing them in action makes me realise just how capable and professional they are. Emails and video calls don’t always let you see your talent in action and it's reassuring and pleasing in equal measures.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s probably best to saddle up – because this wild ride ain't over yet. However, it is helluva good to be back on the ranch!

Rob Aberdein is Managing Director of Moray Group, a professional services umbrella firm which includes Simpson & Marwick

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