The day I realised that COVID-19 was going to have a big impact on TOG was on 28 February – my birthday. Forty of my friends and family came to my home to help me celebrate; a large gathering of people that now, over three months later, feels almost unimaginable. I didn’t know at the time that it was going to be our last big blow-out – if I’d known I’d have stayed up a little later.
And yet, already, there were murmurs about how this virus was going to change our lives forever. ‘Well we won’t be meeting like this in a month’s time,’ someone predicted. However, the presence of a couple who had just come back from Italy, the epicentre of the European pandemic at the time, wasn't questioned, and we all talked gravely about the probability that the UK would soon be fighting off the sickness itself.
As February turned into March, our worst fears became a reality. TOG’s COO Dylan Murray called to tell me that there had been a confirmed case of coronavirus in one of our buildings. TOG had to evacuate its building – a scene that employees and employers will likely have seared into their memories. Questions swirled, thinly masking the panic. ‘When will we be back in?’ many asked. ‘Will we ever actually be back in?’ asked others.
For 17 years our head office has never been empty – until now. It was a point of pride for everyone that the lights had stayed on throughout what has often been a bumpy road. Nevertheless, as our teams, colleagues and friends filed out of the TOG offices in March, I was confident that our home-working plan was viable. TOG co-founder Charlie Green and I felt a little like captains on a sinking ship, but we could also see a glimmer of hope on the horizon – that the rough waters wouldn't just be something we ‘survived’, but instead be the push that people and businesses needed to really change for the better.
Many of the expectations I had about office life have changed during COVID-19. For the first time in living memory, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the way people do business.
The work revolution is being spurred by a simple question: Where do you work best? Depending on who you ask and what they do, the answer will always be different. A football player may say 'the pitch', while a writer may say 'my desk'. Some people work well at home, while others find their focus while flying at 35,000ft on a trans-Atlantic flight. Often my best ideas come in the shower or while walking my dog, DJ Solomun, on Hampstead Heath.