by Tom Buchanan - Founder
Now we’re fully ensconced in our shiny new open plan office we spent some time recently discussing how to make it work best for us as a team.
We want the office to serve our needs rather than we serve its, so we talked about why open plan offices are essential to when it comes to creating a cohesive learning environment for all, not only those new to the profession.
The fact of the matter is that some of our team have never worked in an any type of office before despite two of them having been with us for a year or more. Given this situation, I thought it best not to assume that everyone automatically knows how to behave in an open plan environment.
This meant my starting point was to lay out the ground rules on how open plan offices work. It meant raising potentially difficult issues like when and when not to wear headphones or when colleagues should or should not be interrupted. I find these type of issues are always best addressed openly and upfront.
I also explained that in the communications industry, the whole team – from founder to intern – sits cheek by jowl because it is an essential part of developing people’s skills.
Unlike the legal or accountancy professions where much of professional development is modular and based on book-learning, communications professionals largely learn the ropes by listening to more experienced people go about their work. By working in close proximity and within earshot, we hear how colleagues advise clients, or pitch stories to journalists or talk to other advisers. It means a huge amount of training is delivered by osmosis.
Our discussion focused heavily on how important it is we learn from each other. The sharing of skills and expertise is certainly not one way traffic from older to younger. Our younger staff members are bright, committed and grasp things like digital much more naturally than those of us who remember the Berlin Wall coming down. At Paternoster we firmly believe that no one is ever too senior to learn or too young to impart skills and experience.
We also accept that flexible working is an essential part of post-Covid life. Gone are the days of being glued to an office chair for one’s entire career, and good riddance to them frankly. Our staff members still choose whether to come to the office, because there are days when working from home makes much more sense.
Our goal is for a creative, purposeful office environment where staff members actually want to attend in person. After recognising that getting the most out of the office was through osmosis learning we agreed that at least one senior should always be present in the office and juniors should be present more often in order to develop their careers faster and more fully.
Of course, for all of us there will be a period of adjustment, not just for colleagues new to open plan office life. Many have grown used to working in the absolute quiet of home offices and being in a buzzy office where people are talking on the phone does make it harder to concentrate. We all need to make allowances while we readjust.
But one thing we have agreed is that we will limit our use of headphones in the office. It might make the day go faster by listening to Spotify, but osmotic learning simply won’t happen if office days are spent cocooned in a sound bubble.
For everyone, junior or senior, what’s important is that there’s always something going on in the office and no-one will have come into work only to find that they are on their own all day.