Autonomy To Choose: Q&A with KWENCH’s Tessa McLoughlin

Douglas editor Carla Sorrell talks to KWENCH founder and former 10 to Watch winner Tessa McLoughlin about how employers should approach the 'new normal' of the post-pandemic office.

Interior of KWENCH. Photo by James Jones.
Interior of KWENCH. Photo by James Jones.

What is “Autonomy to Choose”?

I’m hearing a lot of people ask, “How do we get people back to the office?” But if there is anything about our work culture the pandemic has taught us, it is that the majority of us are competent, reliable and responsible humans who are capable of managing our time and commitments without being in “the office” from nine to five. 

The autonomy to choose means an employer recognizes this and says “Okay, we trust you and your ability to know what works right for you and so we will give you the choice to work from the place that makes you the most efficient and productive.”

That might mean that companies who used to spend $20,000/month on office space will repurpose that money by providing an allowance to their team that enables them to choose a space that really works for them. 

Money could be used to subsidize:

  • A home office that used to be rental or mortgage income and the cost that goes into setting up and maintaining that.
  • Assistance for employees caring for others, so they can have uninterrupted and productive days at home.
  • Membership to a coworking or work club to connect with other people, separating work and home life. 

Pre-COVID studies showed that over 65 per cent of employees would take a pay cut in order to work for a company that offers the flexibility to work remotely. That sentiment is going to be even stronger now, but the difference is that we have now experienced the true cost of working from home — both financial and emotional — so while they will take a salary cut for flexibility, they will also expect compensation if they are expected to do it full-time. As employees, it is not their responsibility to inherit the costs the company is saving. 

Why is it important for how we look at the future of work?

People have really appreciated the flexibility, whatever their circumstances: single, coupled, caregivers, early risers, night owls. Being more flexible in the way we allow people to work will open the door to a new array of workers and a new level of commitment. 

In order to retain great employees, a progressive employer will give their employees the resources to make healthy and wise choices about how they work. COVID has unwillingly invited us into people’s private space, for some this has exposed vulnerabilities we would rather not share with our workmates and clients. By giving the resources to people, you’re making ideal work situations inclusive and accessible to everybody. You allow employees to keep their dignity and privacy intact ,and this is what makes them feel seen, valued and respected. Who wouldn’t want to work for someone that makes you feel that way!  

How do you think companies can give more choices to their employees? 

By trusting their ability to work how, when and where is best suited for them, and providing them with options and resources to do that. Some things for employers to consider would be: 

  • Maintaining a vibrant workspace that allows for variety, flexibility and connection.
  • Opportunities to gather, in person, and work with your workmates on a monthly basis.
  • Ability to access coworking spaces of their choice (coworking spaces are not a one size fits all). 
Interior of KWENCH. Photo by James Jones.
Interior of KWENCH. Photo by James Jones.

What factors are important in those choices?

Autonomy, options and connection. Businesses are going to have to give up the old model of control and visible nine to five accountability. Companies need to make sure people are valued, trusted and set up for success. They can do that by giving their employees the autonomy to choose, offering the options above to them and ensuring that there is mandatory in-person interaction and connection at least once a month. 

I read a quote from Unpopular Opinion the other day: “The rise in young people wanting to be entrepreneurs, isolating themselves, working remotely or alone is going to make this generation more miserable, lonely, burnt out and purposeless than any other generation ever has before.” And I totally agree with that. We need connection! Numerous studies on happiness prove that what makes us happy are relationships — close relationships with friends, family, colleagues and community. 

From what you hear from people working at KWENCH, what is important to them right now?

Connection. People are sick of being in their house, not gathering, and at the risk of sounding hokie, not sharing energy with other people. Our strongest human trait is the desire to belong, and this is what people are craving.  

The first thing people say as soon as they walk into KWENCH is “Man, I had to get out of my house!” And then within a week of being here, they’re saying things like “This has been an absolute saviour for me.” I get emails telling me that coming back to KWENCH to work has lifted their depression and got them through a rough time in their life. 

Some folks are only coming in once or twice a week, but even that fills their cup for the rest of the week. 

What value does coworking bring to support a culture of choice?

Coworking or work clubs are the ultimate culture of choice, as you are not forced to be there, you are choosing to buy a membership to that specific space/club. Coworking offers a turnkey flexible solution. You can walk in, try it out, and if it isn’t a fit for you, you can leave. There’s no big hairy commitment or initial outlay of capital to set things up, and you’re also not typically assigned to a specific area unless you choose it. 

A good work club will offer multiple ways of working: standing desks, lounge space, phone booths, shared tables, meeting rooms, busy social space, quiet focused areas — and different providers offer different services. For example, some operators provide just office space and others that are similar to KWENCH provide a multi-service, multi-facility experience. 

Coworking is the ultimate option in workplace choice. It is the embodiment of the autonomy to choose.

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