Working in an office is a huge competitive advantage

Working in an office is a huge competitive advantage. The default for a startup in 2023 seems to be remote-first. I think this is a mistake.

Working in an office is a huge competitive advantage

The default for an AI startup seems to be remote-first. I think this is a mistake. My startup,, is unapologetically office-first – and we think this is a big competitive advantage

Working together with people in an office has a huge number of advantages. I find it surprising how many companies find full remote works well, with the number of WFH days still massively increased since the pandemic:

Share of work completed from home,

The first and most important benefit of working in-person is collaboration. Collaborating effectively as a team is critical to a startups success, and this happens much more effectively in-person. Communication in person is both lower latency and higher bandwidth, working together on a physical whiteboard can’t be beaten for design sessions, and learning happens significantly faster, especially for new joiners. Stanford research reports that this results in 10% less productivity when working from home.

People more often assume the best and trust someone they’re sat next to, while it's easy to resent people you share long Zoom calls with, or to check out and no longer engage with conversation. Every day during our in-person team standup I’m profoundly grateful that I'm not sat on Zoom #26 of the week, and instead I’m spending time with a group of people I enjoy working with.

Finally, working together with real people in a nice space is motivational, and far more fun. It makes you want to work at your best. Sitting on Zoom calls all day is the worst. We smile and laugh infinitely more in the office than we would when working full remote. This builds team spirit and trust, makes work feel less like work, and makes you want to make the team a success.

What about flexibility?

Obviously people have other commitments, and I don’t think 5 days a week 9am-5pm is a great model either. At Context we work 4 days a week in the office, but with high trust and flexible hours. If people need to work from home for several days, that’s absolutely fine. The key seems to be spending the majority of the time together. 

We additionally allow a number of work-from-anywhere weeks, allowing people to travel to spend time with family or friends away from London. We’re finding this flexibility is working well for us so far.

The downsides

The most significant downside of requiring office work is that many great candidates live in other cities or other countries, and don’t want to relocate or work in an office. Unquestionably there is a smaller hiring pool for in-person roles, but in a big tech hub like London we have not found this to be a problem. We’ve been shocked how many incredible candidates are enthusiastic to work in-person after lonely years stuck at home on Zoom during the pandemic, and working in empty tech company offices in the time since. 

Commutes suck - I will admit that. London is lucky to be a dense city with a great public transit system, but this is still a downside. Ultimately, working at a startup is about building something great, and for the benefits of being together in-person, we think it’s worth it.

Do you want to join a startup with a high performing, optimistic, fun, in-office culture? Do you want to build for the future of AI products? We’re hiring founding software engineers in London. More information here.

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