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Book Review: The Nowhere Office

4 March, 2022

Are you reading this on the train? In the coffee shop round the corner from your office? Or in your kitchen ready to head upstairs for a day at your desk? Reports of the death of the office are greatly exaggerated, and while the answers to the question “where do you work?” will be considerably more varied than they would have been two years ago, chances are that the office will play a role in your future in some form or other.

We have been reading Julia Hobsbawm’s new book The Nowhere Office this week and reflecting on what it tells us about the new work paradigm (not least as we gear up for a long overdue refurbishment of our own offices to better reflect what the team now want from a shared workspace). She is remarkably thoughtful on how to answer the vexing question of where we work best, (if you understand “we” to mean those of us who work in service focused, desk based roles) reflecting on how to balance  what she describes as “birdsong” (the serendipitous interactions that happen in person that can’t be replicated digitally) and equality (not everyone has good broadband, a spare room to use as an office and the salary to pay the hefty domestic heating bills) against autonomy and wellbeing.

Of course, this is all about the pandemic, and it’s not about the pandemic at all. Covid-19 was the catalyst, but the shift is driven by questions around inequality and sustainability, changing generational mindsets and technology that we arguably overlooked for a long time.  There isn’t much in this book you won’t have come across elsewhere, but you’re unlikely to have read such a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of what 21st century working will look like. And in the end, there is source for optimism – if (if…) we get it right, we can create workplaces that are better, fairer, more meaningful and more purpose-driven for everyone.

By Claire Jost

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