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We're thriving remotely, so why return to an office?

A panoramic photo of the river by the new studio

Brightec favours flexible working, over remote working. This blog reflects on the last few years, our decisions and the choices that led to where we are now

First a bit of Brightec history (folklore if you wish)... Until June 2020 we had an office in central Brighton; it had been our home for five years having previously been in various other locations in the years before. Since the start of the pandemic though, we (like most) have been almost fully remote. We have sought to create a virtual Brightec that is productive and organised, whilst supportive and social. It has not been easy; we’ve adjusted and reviewed and re-adjusted again. We’ve created tools (HappyTrack being the most notable) and used other people's (Miro, Zoom, Google Meet, AmongUs!). We recruited, interviewed, hired and onboarded multiple times. All this against a backdrop of wanting to try to (at a minimum) maintain and where possible build Brightec’s unique culture and staff cohesiveness. We’ve done well, and our zero attrition rate validates that.

So you are thriving as a remote-only company, why sign a five-year lease on a new office?

Its a really good question and one many people have asked us. We’re not alone in trying to grapple with creating a hybrid working culture, but we are an outlier as we expect all our team to come together at least once per week (more details below). Why?

Our values haven’t changed, we still believe in flexible working over remote working.

When I wrote this blog four years ago, I had no idea how the world would have changed and at least for a period of time turned on its head so that remote working became normal. However, everything in that blog still stands and in fact as we've had a chance to test it more rigorously I believe even more strongly in the claims I made. We still believe that we can create better Culture, Community, Collaboration and Coaching when we work together in-person for a significant portion of our working week. We still believe that flexible working is far superior to remote working,

We always planned to come back together.

When we left our previous office, we made some bold claims.
“So there it is, Brightec are moving! We’ll use the next 6-12 months to shape us for the “new normal” and we’ll emerge into a new permanent location at the end of it different, but stronger.”
- June 2020

“So once this period is over and we’re allowed to return, you’ll find us eating, laughing and most important working together, it is who Brightec are and we’re not about to change that.” - April 2020

It has been really helpful over this period to have these blogs as a signpost to where we’re going. They have served to keep our team aligned to the direction of travel and have helped as we’ve recruited to ensure anyone who comes on board understands where we’re going. There is a chance that when we wrote the posts we might have judged the future incorrectly (and certainly we didn’t anticipate it taking as long as it has), but overall the trajectory we anticipated has held true.

We think we can create something even better than we had before.

“So why are we leaving our office? Simply put, we believe that when we emerge from the storm that is Covid-19, when the dust settles and we’re able to return to working together in a single place, our own personal preference and the Brightec company culture will have moved on to such a degree that we will be looking for something completely different…. At the moment our best guess is that we will be looking for something that we can use a couple of days a week to gather the whole team and then options on hotdesking for those that can’t work effectively from home. “ - June 2020

If you were to measure the productivity of an individual you’d have to use metrics specific to the person’s role. For ease lets take a software engineer as an example; For them, productivity could easily (but incorrectly) be measured by lines of code written or features completed, the more written or completed marks a day as more or less productive. In this scenario any office could not compete, an engineer will always write more code at home than they would in a cohabited space. That though would be a huge mistake. Productivity should not be measured individually; it has to be measured corporately as a team.

Team effectiveness is much more nuanced, it does for sure incorporate individual productivity, but it also accounts for Culture, Community, Collaboration and Coaching as previously indicated. We must therefore create a working environment that accounts for both. If previously our office was setup for individual productivity, our new studio is being created for team effectiveness. It is a fundamental difference that informs how we layout and design the space (more on this below).

We loved our previous office. It was everything we needed at the time. It allowed us to gather, collaborate and work productively together for 4 days per week. Moving forward it is our intention to create something even better than we had previously. It is being designed for what we need now and for how we work now, rather than simply inheriting the good stuff we did previously.


quote mark

“if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”


Our staff want it.

In our last survey (March 2022) 76% of our staff said they were either happy or very happy to be returning to an in-person working environment, with only 12% saying they were unhappy. Given at this point we hadn’t given any specifics on what this might look like, I think this is a great response.

Further to this, in the last few weeks we have started to renovate a space that will become our new studio. During this time we have multiple staff members wanting to work there so much that they are willing to perch on a box and use a sheet of ply as a desk. This is absolutely brilliant and encouraging. It validates our initial assumption that this was something that the team wanted and could get excited about.

So practically what does it look like?

Location

When we started looking for a new home, the location was really important to us. We could have bought a unit in an industrial estate or we could have rented something in central Brighton again. Neither of these would have met our requirement for a place people could enjoy coming to, somewhere we wouldn’t have to encourage our team to use, but somewhere they are itching to come to. So instead we have taken on a space in a small business complex in Shoreham. It has two main things going for it:

  1. It is on the river! Directly next to the tidal Adur river, it is a stunning, southerly, beautiful outlook from which to work.

  2. Shoreham is a small seaside town with local cafes, restaurants and even a yacht club, but it has a mainline station, with trains direct from Brighton and London.

Design

New Studio Layout


Aesthetics are important to us but more important than how a space looks, is how it works. The design for our studio must reflect our brand (how it looks) AND our values (how it works). To that end we’ve identified the following objectives for the studio space. It must:

  • Enable easier, informal communication across the company.

  • Reduce the need for video-only meetings.

  • Enable the building of friendships across the functions of the company.

  • Increase collaboration and creativity in all aspects of the business.

  • Enable better mentoring and training.

  • Build stronger relationships outside of Brightec by providing a space to host.

  • Increase The Fun!

In practice, this means lots of well-equipped meeting spaces, designed for hybrid meetings (eg. multiple people in the room and online). It means lots of social areas and breakout spaces, including outside. It means a number of well-equipped hotdesks. It means a good quality internet connection, so lots of video calls can happen in tandem. It means allowing ‘well-behaved dogs, occasionally’. And it means access to the river, the town and the beach (plus easily obtainable coffee and ice-cream).

Working Format

It would be no good to create a beautiful and effective working environment, but on any given day not have enough people, or the right people, in the space to meet the objectives we’ve laid out. It would be easy to say to the staff ‘come in when you want to’ and find that some days too many people are around, but most of the days the people you really want to work with are still at home. With that in mind, we envision a more proactive and strategic approach to the working format. It is important to note, that this is work-in-progress and subject to regular review once we get started.

Two Weekly Timetable

Monday
Mondays have always been important to us, before, during and now after Covid. We have breakfast together and use the morning to plan our weeks and projects. We are therefore requesting that on Mondays all our staff attend the studio. We may not have enough hot desks, but we’ll certainly have enough places for people to work and plan.

Tuesday and Wednesday
We are expecting to schedule our weeks in a two-week cycle. In the first week the team will be allocated to a Tuesday or Wednesday by project, with the second week allocated by function. In practice, that means in advance it will be possible to predict what days of the week specific staff members will certainly be in the studio and therefore enable planning any meetings (1:1s etc) around this.

Thursdays and Fridays
These will be available for people to use adhoc, but they should not necessarily expect anyone else to be in the studio with them.

It sounds complicated but in practice, we think it will be fairly easy to get the hang of and deliver on the objectives outlined previously. Crucially this approach creates the largest chance of having the right people co-located, to increase in-person only meetings.


quote mark

“This approach creates the largest chance of having the right people co-located, to increase in-person only meetings.”


It's a Studio, not an Office!

We’re excited and passionate about creating a new home for Brightec. Somewhere for the new season ahead as we re-establish ourselves and how we want to work together, rather than having remote working forced upon us.

We’re doing much of the work ourselves but being very careful with our time and money to ensure it doesn’t become an unnecessary distraction. We’ve seen too many agencies and companies invest way too much into their offices, at the expense of their cash flow and clients. We’ve made a start and we’re already proud of what we’re creating and how we’re doing it.

It's going to be brilliant; a place of Culture, Community, Collaboration and Coaching beyond what we were able to create before. It is why we’re calling it a studio rather than an office, and why we’re excited to host our clients and friends as soon as it is ready.

Click here for a historic look at Brightec's relationship with office spaces.


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