Apparently many offices in Britain are not as nice a working environment as they could be and a survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors reveals the top 10 desirable traits a workplace should have, according to UK workers.
I thought it would be fun to compare my experiences of working from home as I do now to what it was like working in an office environment.
1. Lots of natural light
Office – To be honest I don’t think I ever worked anywhere where I could properly see a window, certainly I never got any natural light. As I started my career in a Defence company working in IT, my first real office job was actually working underground with just small windows at the very top that allowed us to see the soles of people walking by. Someone once said that it was rather like working in a nuclear submarine in that you only really get to see daylight every 4-6 months and he was quite right.
Later places where I worked may have had windows for others but usually only for senior staff. Actually one place I worked did have a window right next to me but the view was of a warehouse and the company closed after 2 months. My penultimate work place had windows but I couldn’t see them and even if I could see them there were just grey warehouses over the road. The windows only opened a few inches, probably to stop us staff from impaling ourselves on the steel fencing underneath… chance would have been a fine thing.
My last office had big windows everywhere except in my room where they had again tiny windows right up by the ceiling. It was dark even at midday, we all hated it and they were behind me so I saw nothing
At home I have a big window so close to me I can touch it as I type and beyond that a view to trees and fields so all in all, this one goes to working from home.
2. Good heating/ventilation
In the office – Oh my goodness, where does one start with this. Does anyone in the U.K. work where they are happy with the heating and ventilation? Even if the system is sufficient, everyone has a different temperature level to which they are accustomed. One mans sauna is in the workplace often everyone elses freezer.
In nearly 20 years I don’t think I ever worked anywhere where the temperature was comfortable. Normally it was always too cold, the temperature set to please the few managers who generally were either in meetings or out of the office and so only had to bear the cold for a few minutes every day. When I was a student, I actually spent time working in industrial freezers and ovens and I can tell you that generally they were the most comfortable workplaces. Ok, the cold would make your steel toe cap shoes stay cold long after you were eating lunch in the sun. The oven though I had no problem with, once more than 3 feet / 1 metre away, I found the constant desert like conditions quite pleasant.
Usually I and many of my colleagues would end up dressing for summer as if it were winter, wearing fleece jackets and jumpers. Setting the air-con to 18-20 degrees (66-68F) seems stupid given that in the winter everyone has their heating on to a warmer temperature than this and they are wearing winter clothing. How productive can you be wearing a shirt or dress and having a cold and artificial wind blowing down you neck or legs? Not very in my experience. I spent much of my time going to the toilets to put my hands under hot air hand dryers, sometimes contorting my body somewhat to have the hot air blow down my neck or up past my socks. It was generally much better than the hot air we contended with from the management.
In some places people would bring personal hot air blowers, in others people would make air-con shields and direct the cold air elsewhere. Like the heating, the temperature was always set by people who were hardly there, generally salesman or directors who got what they wanted even if it meant misery for us and messing up the temperature controls that generally took weeks to set correctly in the first place.
At lunch time, my friend and I would go out and eat our sandwich like two reptiles warming ourselves up. I myself often went outside for 10 illicit minutes to just soak up the sun or even the daylight and get warmed up, it always reminded me of that scene in the Shawshank Redemption when the prisoners got to work on the roof for a day and have a beer and for just once in their whole life, feel human.
Naturally the air-con would fail on those few days when we had record temperatures so we all sat there boiling. How typical. Things in the winter were no better, it was still too cold and in many places the heating wasn’t programmed to come on until later in the day when directors would arrive. It was often hard to browse the web when you’re sitting on your hands to keep warm. We’d all get excited when there was a big print job to run off just for the smell and especially the heat of the paper after going through the printer. Holding 50 or 100 black and white printouts could warm up your hands nicely at least for a few minutes. I almost miss that feeling and smell. If all else failed, we’d just microwave our mug of tea that we had been too busy to drink and had now gone cold.
At home, like most people I have this thing called central heating. If I am cold I make the house warmer. If I am hot, I switch it off. It seems to work well and I’m currently writing this at 7am in t-shirt and shorts with slightly incongruous and possibly feminine furry slippers. My tea sometime still goes cold but at least I know the microwave is clean and if I catch anyone fiddling with the heating controls, I can probably legally attack them with a heavy object.
3. Regular cleaning
In the office I suppose it depends on what the definition of regular is and also I suppose what the definition of cleaning is too? Usually the bins would be emptied daily but not always anything more than a hairs-width away on the floor. The places were rarely if ever dusted, stains became ever bigger on the carpet and sometimes the kitchen would be a no-go area as someone had eaten a disgustingly foul smelling lunch and either not cleaned up at all or left a leaky container in the fridge.
Then there were the toilets. They were nearly always the sort of places that seemed just on the acceptable side of filthy. Maybe not illegal but the sort or place you’d do you business hovering above the seat. For some reason some people seemed to have problems flushing the loo and it often smelt really bad, especially in that end cubicle that was so often occupied. Was it a bad curry, were the occupants dead? Who knew, who cared… if they were dead then they had taken the easy way out and not worried about the worsening smell we’d all endure until one of the illegal immigrant cleaners got round to checking things out. Fingers crossed it would be a bad manager and not the one good one in the company… maybe it would be that woman who pinches lunches from the fridge or the air-con control fiddler.
At home everything is cleaned regularly. I know because I hoover and clean everywhere myself at least every Friday and my wife does the things I’m too incompetent to do on Saturday If my food falls on the floor I just pick it up and eat it, spilt drinks are cleaned within seconds and if the microwave gets temporarily dirty then I blame the Airbnb guests before cleaning it myself rather than complaining about Fred and his stinky food or Olga the friendly and well meaning but clearly useless and non-English speaking cleaner.
Another one to working from home.
4. Good kitchen facilities
To be honest, I never expect anything special in the way of kitchen facilities. Work is work and anything more than a cup of tea is a bit of an extravagance. Some people though would freak out at our kitchen arrangements though as they were both basic and often grim. Broken work-tops, kettles that barely worked, crumbs everywhere and there would always be one person in the office with barely any sense of hygiene or common courtesy… it wasn’t always me either! People would always steal treats in the kitchen area or cleaners would take things out of the fridge that you just brought in whilst leaving the mouldy bowl of spaghetti that had been there for 3 weeks and now festering on the top shelf, going green and making noises.
I can pretty much go all day drinking water or tea if it is cold. I also just use one cup. If I eat anything, normally it isn’t moist or with a sauce or gravy so the plate is “clean” to use a few hours later at my next meal. If it isn’t then I wash it. What I don’t do is dump it in the sink expecting the cleaning fairies to sort things out. It is also the people with the messiest food and drinks that seem to use multiple mugs and plates. Have 7 mugs of coffee a day? Fine, rinse out your cup and re-use it. Don’t use 7 differing mugs and then just leave them scattered around the place like some twisted easter-egg hunt. These people would also never be the people to wash them/put them in and out of the dishwasher either.
I’d always bring in my own mug and just stick with that, it was clean, I always knew where it was and it made me feel safe.
The last place I worked was always on the edge of going bust as opposed to the previous place that did go bust. For some reason one of the directors was obsessed with the new coffee/capuchinno/tardis like device. It cost a fortune and each capsule of the foul tasting drink could have paid off the entire debt of the third-world. Try getting a small tub of hot-chocolate powder on the expenses and you’d soon find yourself taking the easy way out in the end toilet cubicle.
At home I have a kitchen. It has a kettle, microwave, ovens, washers, cleaners, fridges, freezers, pantries, windows. It’s pretty 21st century. It doesn’t have a tardis coffee maker as I hate coffee, it does have a bread-maker and rather than poncy snacks, has food that I can actually eat. People don’t steal my food from the fridge and if anything Airbnb guests leave their food as they bought too much or can’t take it on their flight home. Win-win for me.
5. Good security
In the office if you mean security as in stopping external people illegally entering your workplace then I guess the Defence industry had good security. Guards, dogs, fences, woodland and the rumour that various people were getting bumped-off by the secret services.
Aside from that place, security was non-existent. In one work-place I remember frequently being harassed by customers, calling the police, being told never ever to visit Norway and having my car blocked in my angry customers short-changed by a unscrupulous company owner.
Really though the biggest problem was lack of job-security. There was none, always organisations merging, moving, closing down, buying out, recessions, depressions and senior personnel always rushing to bully staff to their every whim in order to hide their own all too obvious inadequacies.
At home I am very safe. The doors and windows are all triple-locked or quadruple locked even on top of other security arrangements. I don’t have to pretend to look busy when a manager walks in (even though you can be working very hard and not look busy) or worry about my job. If anyone confronts me personally at my desk then it is normally my wife saying to stop working. For everyone else I have a very sharp 99 year old WW1 bayonet less than 2 inches from where I sit. I don’t have any debts or anyone wanting to hurt me, I’m a competent businessman with good personal morals.
6. Café/bar/restaurant on site
Holy moly, where do these people think they are working? Only once did I work somewhere with any of these, my first Defence company. Despite having no windows, it was a beautiful and happy place to work and employees thrived… naturally it was closed down and turned into housing.
Never mind having a cafe/bar/restaurant on site, some places didn’t have any of these within walking distance, one place there was barely enough time to drive to any of these stuck as it was in a twilight zone location on the edge of reality. An awful place but no doubt very cheap. No for most of my working life, the only place to relax was walking around busy and not very nice streets or sitting in the car. I usually ate my lunch in the car whether it was wet, snowy or over 100 degrees in the sun. It was the only place where managers couldn’t get you and it was the only personal space you could have. Yes having lunch in an icy car isn’t the best thing in the world but it was better than eating at your desk. Sometimes you’d have people from more caring companies asking you just how bad it must be to eat in your car… at other times they’d ask my colleagues who did the same thing.
Working from home I don’t have a bar, cafe or restaurant at home. I do have everything I need in the kitchen though. Also I don’t have to worry about the clock so I can have lunch in the garden, walk across the park to the pub or cafe. Meet up with friends for a meal in a restaurant or walk 10 minutes down the road to the cinema, bowling alley and who knows what else. Today I am meeting a friend for a Pizza Hut buffet and going to watch the new Terminator film and yes it is a working day. You can put those pretentious Google chill-out zones in your pipe and smoke it.
7. Space to work away from desk
In the office, if you were ever away from your desk for more than a few minutes a day then you were treading a very fine line if not from your boss then for the dragon in accounts who despite being the most flawed person in the company and maybe in humanity, took delight in announcing loudly at the most inopportune moments “Where’s Jack, he’s never here when you want him. He’s always on his phone, never doing work. I didn’t see him when I came in (20 minutes late) and he’s never there the 10 times a day I go on a cigarette break and yesterday when I came back late from lunch he wasn’t there either”.
There seems to be a culture where if you aren’t at your desk then you aren’t working. Not all places, but all but the first 2 organisation which I worked for. Directors and managers could work from home but not staff, partly this was I fear to hide their own incompetence, heaven forbid that some work had to be done in the office when they were the only ones there.
I remember one manager at the penultimate place I worked at. On my first day I showed this man how to print a document from Excel. It was something I had to do several times a day, most of the days during the next 5 years. It was the first thing I had to do for him and no matter how much I showed him, he couldn’t remember how to do it. I remember on the morning he lost his job, despite having a million other things I had to do, he had me print the same stupid spreadsheet out 3 times. On the third time I went to the printer for him and when I came back he was gone, for good. I thought it was a nice touch that our whole professional relationship had started and ended this way. Our tasks had no purpose and I like many others just went back to work, seconds later it was like he had never existed. How sad.
Maybe it is because so many senior company staff live off expenses, enjoy free gifts and corporate days out that they think workers are as sneaky and work-shy as they are. I’m sure a few are.
Working from home I can work anywhere I like. I have wi-fi and if devices don’t work I sort it out quickly rather than getting in a panic about how important and busy I am before making things worse and eventually getting an underling to repair it. I also don’t buy stuff for work because it looks flash but then don’t know how to use it. I have my computer, iPad, a 15 year old phone and this funny pen and paper stuff too.
I can work up in the third bedroom (office). I can work on the sofa. I can plan tours or write novels in the garden. I can pretty much work wherever I like and no-one cares. Despite never being allowed to work from home despite having a 90 minute each way on a good day commute (whilst senior people with easier lives could do whatever they wish), in 2 years I have only not worked properly just 1 day, not including planned holidays. I start work around 6am and most days I finish about 6pm. Of course in between I can go for walks, mess around or I can finish at 10am and go and sit in the sun.
I am more productive than I ever was in an office, I have more free time too and my standards are just as high if not higher than they were in the corporate world, certainly higher than 99% of those I worked for.
8. Gym on site
Yeah yeah yeah, we’d all like a gym on site. I’d like Beyonce to bring me my lunch from the kitchen and serenade me whilst dancing on my desk as I wallow in piles of money and wonder which holiday island I will spend the coming weekend at. We’d all like a gym on site wouldn’t we? Actually no I wouldn’t which is fortunate as I never did have one. Most places had lots of stairs and so many doors in corridors that it was something of an endurance getting to and from the front door and the office itself. I suppose we often carried the management if that counts?
From what I can tell most people rather than have a gym on site just want a respectful and friendly company to work for with intelligent and not at all tyrannical managers. I guess if you can’t have any of that then why not wish for a gym. Really though if you work somewhere where you have so little spare time you even have to exercise at work then you need to find a better work-life balance.
At home, one of the few things I don’t have his a gym. There is an exercise bike under the stairs, real bikes in the shed and once every few months a supermarket delivery comes which requires lots of lifting. Usually though I make the most of not having an insecure dictator hovering over me and go for walks in the parks, woods or countryside. Its free, healthy, peaceful and there isn’t a long commute back home afterwards. Also, Paul the VP of Incompetence hasn’t come to the weights just to ask me to get back in the office straight away as the director made a promise he can’t keep.
9. Good colour scheme
Most offices I have worked in have had really bland colours, maybe that is partly due to the strip lighting required by a lack of windows. White everywhere and those same grey carpet tiles with coarse hair and stains on them. Some places make a token effort with lime green walls or royal blue corridors and they may have looked nice when they were painted 20 years ago.
The blinds are usually broken, often people fiddle with your chairs so they don’t feel right and the only good thing to look at is that photo of your wife under the monitor that makes you wonder why are you spending so much time in this hell-hole.
At home I have the coolest colour scheme. A feature wall with chocolate cookie dough that is good enough to eat… and in this hot weather I’ve come very close. Everything is clean and tidy and new and undamaged. I don’t have to have company calendars on my wall or desk charts from suppliers with the annual calendar on and photos of spare parts all around the edges. There is no strip lighting but rather a tasteful desk lamp, a poster of Steve McQueen by a “halt’ sign from The Great Escape above my printer and a poster for Them above my monitor showing giant ants attacking New York.
Rather than a series of post-it notes and piles of paperwork, I have filing that makes sense in a drawer and Thank-you cards from happy guests from my tours. I am allowed to have music on, thanks to the internet I don’t have to make or receive any phone calls from one year to the next and I am responsible for every aspect of my work…. because I am a normal non-director type person I always know what is going on and never make mistakes or have to resort to threatening myself if I don’t work harder.
I can wear what I want to work and I suppose if I didn’t want to, there is no-one to say I have to wear anything at all! No-one makes judgements of me and I in turn don’t become so bitter that I end up imagining very nasty ends to people who make my life hell.
10. High ceilings
I can’t honestly imagine where people might work that having high ceilings is important to you. Don’t you have any real working problems? Maybe if you are a coal miner I can see how this would be nice. I must admit that even when I have worked underground, I’ve never banged my head on a ceiling.
Most companies I’ve worked at have had glass ceilings. These normally kept hard working, conscientious people underneath them whilst letting those with a big mouth and teflon shoulders rise to the top.
Working from home I can’t say I aspire to higher ceilings. Just last night I needed a chair to change the batteries on the smoke alarm. How high a ceiling do I need? I suppose I wouldn’t turn down a Georgian country house if someone offered it to me but it’s hardly on my immediate priority list.
Ironically I do actually bang my head these days. When I give tours on HMS Victory, Nelsons flag ship, I pretty much bang my head every single time. Never in the same place… I’m not that stupid. Normally I am making sure that tour guests aren’t hitting their head. My word, does that mean the office actually has one over working from home. Errr no if for no other reason that I also visit cathedrals with ceilings hundreds of feet high.
So that is my comparison of working in an office and working from home. I’d like to say it was a close run thing and that I’d call it a draw but it is in noway shape or form a close run thing. What do you think of these 10 requirements of British offices? Does your workplace shape up?