Does a creative business need a physical hub?
Can great ideas come from remote working? Can you run a £6m business in the cloud?
We've always pondered these questions: offices are expensive and commuting wastes time.
So when Boris bamboozled us over the tannoy with predictions of Olympic meltdown at London Bridge (our local tube station), we thought this could be a time to find out the answers. It was time to go off-piste, but stay on-grid.
Work Club is a 60-person digital creative agency with clients like Heineken, BBC, Kraft and BT. We have creative, designers, strategists, producers, techies and a bunch of other people who combine to come up with big digital ideas for our clients.
But could they deliver the goods from home?
With necessity being the mother of invention, combined with the proliferation of tools in online and social, why wouldn't we shake off the shackles of conventional business practices and virtually run our business successfully through a host of online and social tools and technologies? The theory went that going completely virtual would free up peoples' creativity. Less time stuck on the underground means more time having ideas.
And as a digital agency focused on understanding how consumers embrace digital culture, it stands to reason that we should walk the walk ourselves and demonstrate our own commitment to technology. It would hardly be the greatest leap in any case, as we were already well versed in using tools like Google Hangouts, Google Docs, DropBox and VPN as well as Gmail and phone.
So we decided to go for it. During the first week of the Olympics we closed the physical agency, a 6000 square ft ex-hop warehouse near Borough Market and forced all employees to work remotely, either at home, or in a convenient spot that worked for them. A hashtag soon made its way onto Twitter, with #workcloud featuring in tweets that bragged of comfy workstations, delicious home-prepared lunches and crucially, of productivity.
So, did it work? Yes and No.
We expected to learn a lot from this trial week, and we were open to failing a bit.
The general consensus was that concentration genuinely soared, people could focus better, and this meant faster and more autonomous working. Prizes were suggested for those who managed to leave the country without any discernible drop in productivity. And although no-one actually tried it, healthy competition on the most inspiring remote workplaces developed. The best "office" at the start of the week went to a trendy East London bike café.
The week shocked everyone in the agency (from finance people to creatives) into learning about, and using the tools fully and properly.
It was great for task-based stuff (our office is open-plan so it can be very hard to concentrate).
Personally, I hated it.
I'm far from being a Victorian boss, but I think its really important to catch people doing stuff right as well as wrong. Agency life isn't very structured - a lot of the best stuff happens randomly.
So when it costs £26,000 a day to run the business, I don't just want to see everyone's focused on the right stuff, I want to see sparks flying, I want to hear smart builds on daft thoughts - and above all, I want to see passionate people smiling, sparring, shouting and shoving. Which doesn't happen much on Skype.
Humans thrive and positive cultures grow when people share a creative space. Send them home and they'll bash out their work then gawp at the Olympics. Obviously I didn't. Not once.