Professor Tom Shakespeare (1979, D), researcher in sociology, bioethics, and disabled rights advocate, spoke to an audience of Old Radleians, parents, and students, as part of the Radleian Society’s Big Thinking series on Thursday 3rd November 2022.

For Tom, like many others, the option to work remotely has meant greater flexibility to fit around his life, commitments, and personal comfort. It has also meant that opportunities, such as global collaboration, have opened up in a way that was impossible only a decade or two ago. Tom is a proponent of the benefits that home working brings, and spoke passionately about his own experiences.

Tom asked the audience to consider carefully what they want their own experience of working to be like, and how they can do their best work. For some, the stimulus of the office is important for inspiration and relationship-building, but others will find their productivity increases when the negative impacts of stressful, lengthy commutes, and office distractions are removed.

With remote and flexible working options, employees are more able to fit their work around family commitments, tailor their physical workspaces to their unique requirements, and break down other employment barriers. For those less able, or less inclined, to travel, working from home has been a boon, levelling the playing field for older generations and those with disabilities. No matter who you are, or where you are, if your industry is computer-based, you can work globally, attend meetings and conferences with colleagues overseas, and maximise your ‘productive’ time.

However, Tom was also candid about the challenges that remote working can bring. Time in the office can be invaluable for those in their early career to foster strong relationships with their organisation and colleagues, and provide more opportunities to learn first-hand from senior staff. There are numerous intangible benefits of meeting face-to-face, because social cues and conversational subtleties can be lost through a screen. Can we really digitally replicate moments of ‘watercooler’ inspiration, or the importance of experiencing a physical space or object first hand, using all our senses?

Importantly, Tom spoke about the difficulty some people have if their home office is a bedroom in shared accommodation, or there are other household distractions. He also argued that more needs to be done to educate employees in new skillsets focussed on self-motivation, time management, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance when remote working.

Questions from the audience included the themes of government legislation, company culture, and the benefits of working a four-day week. The talk was well received by all that joined, and is available to watch online.

Catch up on previous Big Thinking talks via the YouTube Big Thinking playlist.

Play video