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21 July, 2021 - 16:49 By Tony Quested

Staff welfare trumps bricks and mortar, say top Cambridge companies

Some of Cambridge’s largest and most influential companies have spelled out to PM Boris Johnson that they will not be bullied into a premature return to work for their staff.

Arm, Marshall of Cambridge, Frontier Developments and a host of other thought leaders tell Business Weekly that the physical and mental welfare of their people will determine return to work policy – not government mandates or recommendations.

With senior Government people forced into self-isolation at the start of this week by a new surge of Covid – wrecking the core message of so-called Freedom Day – business leaders locally showed themselves to be the true masters of the situation.

Part-return to work seems the best the Government is likely to get from Cambridge companies – and then only once all angles have been investigated.

Paul Larbey, CEO of mobile commerce company Bango plc, was unequivocal: “Key to any answer on returning to offices has to be individual choice. At Bango, Expressive is one of our THRIVE values and describes how we value difference and support the choices of individuals.

“While we strongly believe that teams working together in an office can be more efficient, we have also proven that remote working is not only possible but works. 

“Our approach on this is simple; we will open the office in line with the new guidelines but will leave the choice of when to return to the individuals. With some people not yet double jabbed and others with underlying health conditions, it would be irresponsible and completely counter to our values to mandate a return to the office.”

A spokesperson from Arm told Business Weekly: “The health and safety of our people, as well as ensuring they remain engaged and productive, has been our top priority throughout the pandemic.

“We are taking a careful phased approach to the return to offices across the UK and globally. Arm embraces the value of both the office and the additional flexibility of working from home. 

“We continue to monitor the situation closely and look forward to gradually getting our teams back on site, with a focus on creating a flexible environment in which our people can collaborate and innovate in a way that works for everyone.”

David Braben of video games great Frontier Developments struck the same tone: “As we stated in our recent trading update it’s the prolonged period of exclusive home working that has been the challenge for us, not home working in itself.  

“Developing games provides both creative and technical challenges which are often best overcome by teams working together in the same physical space.

“The collaborative benefits of teams being able to share a physical space tends to be even greater for larger teams; we often have 100 or more people on a game development project.

“To get the best from working together in the office whilst also retaining the benefits of home working (task based working can be very efficient at home) and providing flexibility for our staff, we will be trialling a hybrid model of working during a six month period, to begin later this year.

“Working exclusively at home continues to be the norm for the majority of our talented team, who continue to manage admirably through the challenges posed by coronavirus.

“The greatest challenges which we have experienced from exclusive home working tend to relate to the collaboration of staff on large projects, particularly in their later stages. 

“Looking ahead we are hoping to transition back to more office-based working later in calendar 2021, subject to government guidance and the safety of our staff. 

“In the first instance, this will be a planned phased return to using the studio on an ad-hoc basis, followed by a transition to a hybrid office/home working model which we plan to adopt for a trial period of approximately six months. 

“We believe this will resolve the collaboration challenges from exclusive home working, whilst also providing our staff with the flexibility to enjoy both the efficiency benefits and the personal benefits that home working can provide.”

Marshall of Cambridge has multiple divisions and working practices are determined by individual management within each operation. A spokesperson said flexibility remained the key to maintaining sensible and safe working environments for staff while retaining productivity for each branch of the business.

“Some operations demand a number of people working together and here we maximise the safest possible working conditions in line with statutory requirements. Elsewhere we have more flexibility but we continue to ensure optimum safety standards for all of our people.

“While we have multiple contracts to fulfil for global governments and companies we will never compromise the health and safety of our staff. It is a balancing act but our moral obligations are crystal clear.”

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