It is interesting to read of plans by Advantage West Midlands to create “tele-hubs” around the region to encourage major employers to allow workers to give up their commute into Birmingham in favour of an office closer to home.
The agency highlights numerous benefits – from tackling climate change by reducing unnecessary commuting, to allowing employees greater flexibility in their working arrangements.
Workers will sit alongside staff from other firms at specially equipped out-of-city centre tele-hubs. Employers will also to be encouraged to offer “seasonal working hours”, where staff can work longer during the summer when it is lighter and shorter during the dark winter months to cut down on congestion.
It is refreshing to see such ideas being mooted, even if there was a fairly predictable response from Birmingham Chamber of Commerce regarding the financial implications of such a move.
But why the fixation with office space?
Do we need to create a load of tele-hubbies?
It might not rank alongside their current commute into Birmingham, but employees will still need to travel to these hubs.
Arguably it could simply transfer the congestion problem to the city’s suburbs and surrounding communities, where the tele-hubbies will be jostling with their local school run – the chances are they will still drive, rather than take public transport or find a more convenient way to travel to work.
The tele-hubs could work, but not as a permanent base.
It would be far more sensible to allow people to work from home, then visit these tele-hubs for meetings or to provide them with their fix of “office life” and to tackle any feelings of isolation they might feel.
One of the drawbacks of working from home can be the lack of social interaction. Over the last couple of years I’ve always tried to organise my weekly diary with face-to-face, or face-to-faces visits to client, or an interview, or simply to catch up with contacts and colleagues.
Yet it is clear that the hypnotic lure of the office is still great. I can understand the desire to separate home-life from work-life, but with greater flexibility of location and hours comes greater influence for individuals.
The way we work is changing, however, we are going to need a far greater cultural shift to introduce genuine flexibility and significant differences to the traditional form of office life that still has a tight grip on the overwhelming majority of employers and employees.
We need to be educated in the ways we can work differently. We need understand how to use technology to our benefit and the opportunities it can provide for a new approach to work and working.
The tele-hubs might be a useful stepping stone to achieve that greater shift in attitudes.
Yet in its current form I can see it could simply transfer many of the environmental problems that AWM is hoping to tackle from the city centre to surrounding communities.
It might well be time for tele-hubbies, but there is still plenty of room for improvements.