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Is there any sense to Malcolm Gladwell’s comments about WFH culture?

By Dom Robertson, Managing Director



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August 18, 2022 | 4 min read

Following journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s controversial comments about working from home last week, Dom Robertson, managing director at RPM, responds. He addresses how as a B-Corp certified agency, adopting a flexible hybrid culture can cultivate a better work-life balance across the board.

RPM reflects on Malcolm Gladwell's comments about WFH culture and why a hybrid approach suits the B-corp organization. Image: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

RPM reflects on why a hybrid approach suits the B-corp organization / Charles Deluvio via Unsplash

There is, understandably, a lot being said about Malcolm Gladwell’s recent podcast interview and his views around the great return to the office.

It’s worth noting that the interview is broad, and topics covered amount to much more than the two or three headline grabbers, where Gladwell says that those continuing to work from home are hurting society and harming organizations as they get back on their feet after Covid.

His unfortunate use of tone, notably mocking those that WFH as “sitting in pyjamas” while they do it, undermines what could be some useful and prescient points. I’m sure we can all reflect on the need to WFH with its plusses and minuses without being snipey.

The default view that those who choose to not attend their office are the problem, and not the organizations themselves, speaks loudly to the still very engrained doctrine of presenteeism, though we do recognize there is a balance to be had and time together is vital. I speak (type) from the view of an agency, and recognize that not all industries can operate in the way ours can.

As a business that holds a B-Corp certification, RPM engages openly with the opportunity for greater workforce diversity and the ways in which we can improve access for talent from across society and personal circumstances. The opportunity to forgo the daily commute, even just for half the week, has opened up a talent pool for RPM that before wasn’t realistic.

Additionally, work and life at RPM really is balanced in a fairer way through real choice, and we feel this flexible working policy allows for great inclusivity across the board – which is only a good thing.

Of course, we recognize that there are moments of togetherness needed for project and culture purposes, and bringing teams together to share energy, ideas and support.

Our home, The Old Treacle Factory, has for many years been the hub our teams gather around to work and play together. We are a people-first business and our multiple Best Places To Work Awards over the last decade will attest that, for the most part, we got it right and the office was the place to be. But times have changed, our world has adapted, and so must businesses.

Since March 2022, RPM has brought in a flexible working policy. While we don’t have all the answers and our policies and approaches are always evolving, we know there are key times where we are better together.

These times include project kick-offs, company meetings, team meetings, workshops and ideation sessions, as well as many other key times where having some face-to-face time is vital.

Our new way of working – though not so new, just a continual adaptation – has been built to allow said flexibility while putting in place key calendar moments for team togetherness and updates across all departments of the business, allowing RPM’s culture to flourish. The responsibility to inform and inspire our team, and galvanize them around something special, is down to the board and leadership team here at RPM.

We don’t always get it right, but by using mechanics such as regular surveys, monthly team socials and good old-fashioned conversations, we are able to continually review and improve.

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