Why a return to the office is light at end of tunnel - Andy Shatwell

As we look back over the last 12 months, we’re hearing more and more business stories from the pandemic.

Library image of a near empty Albion Place in  Leeds during height of pandemic
Library image of a near empty Albion Place in Leeds during height of pandemic

Some have thrived, some barely survived and some sadly are no longer around due to hugely unprecedented factors. One conversation that has been asked repeatedly amongst a world working from home is: is the office dead?

As Covid hit, many companies bemoaned their office as an expensive and unnecessary luxury that they now didn’t need. It felt like everyone was thrilled to jettison, cancel or just choose not to renew leases as revenues dropped but costs didn’t. For many, ditching the office felt like a pre-requisite for pandemic damage control.

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My business had no choice but to take a very different approach. I’m MD of Charlton Morris, a recruitment firm based in Leeds After founding in 2013, we enjoyed six years of consistent growth. We underwent a rebrand in 2019 which culminated in signing off on a 10,000 sq ft office with a six-figure price tag in Leeds city centre in autumn 2020. Cue pandemic.

Whilst everyone else was doing everything they could to ditch their office space in lockdown 1, we were putting the finishing touches to our new, very long term, very expensive new home.

Obviously, it was a scary thing to have just blown a significant amount of our accumulated capital on a depreciable asset that our competitors were all ditching completely but even then, my faith in the importance of a great space to work in never wavered despite the fact we’d managed quite a successful transition to working from home.

The office became a bit of a beacon for us; a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel. It represented, and still represents, a commitment to togetherness, our employees and the future of our business. Having the space there acted as a unifier toward a common goal: let’s keep doing great work for all of our clients, so the business is still around whenever lockdown ends and we can get back into this new space and celebrate.

Fast forward to today and we’re still at home. Most of the team have made it back into the office now at some point and have been able to see it first-hand during the yo-yoing of restrictions, but almost a year to the day since it’s completion we’ve still not been able to ‘properly’ enjoy it.

That might sound like a terrible thing, but I’m ok with it. For me that full, thriving office remains the light at the end of the tunnel. I know it’s what’s kept me going through the darker times and from the conversations I’ve been having with my team, it’s doing the same for them too.

Even while we haven’t been in, this last 12 months has reinforced to me how important a great office is to our business and it will continue to be.

Post-pandemic we’ll undoubtedly be more flexible – we’ve found that some people love working from home – but an amazing office space will always be core to our business, our success and our commitment to being a great place to work.

So, long live the office. I can’t wait to finally get in ours.

By Andy Shatwell, Managing Director, Charlton Morris

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