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Here’s hoping we see the CPL office buzzing again in 2021

CPL is extending the lease on its Cambridge office – even though hardly anyone has worked there for the past nine months. In a final blog for 2020, CPL managing director Mike Sewell explains why

What do we actually mean by company culture? It’s a question I have asked myself frequently during 2020.

And I’ve been thinking about it more than ever over the past week or so, for two key reasons.

First, we held our annual Christmas party last Friday – but for the first time, virtually. 

It was fab. Some particular positives for me were that it resulted in less of a hangover than normal and it featured fewer embarrassingly over-effusive (but genuine) conversations with employees telling them how much I love having them at CPL.

But I still really hope next year’s event will happen in person.

Second, my colleague Laura and I have spent a fair amount of time over recent months negotiating a new deal on CPL’s office premises. As Laura (mainly) and I (a bit) trawled through often tedious commercial property legalese, I regularly asked myself some apparently obvious questions.

Why spend money on an office (and, right now, lawyers and surveyors) when for most of 2020 only a few employees have actually spent much time in it? Could we not scrap the office, hire a more flexible shared space and do the rest from home? 

As our CPL Christmas film below shows, we’ve successfully created and delivered some great work for our clients this year – and yet some people have not visited the office once since mid-March.

Talking through the highs and lows of 2020 at our annual shareholders’ meeting this week reminded me how much we have all achieved. 

It’s been a tough year but, thanks to the flexibility, positive attitude and long-term thinking of our employees, clients and suppliers, CPL is in a far better position now than I feared would be the case when the Covid crisis first hit back in March.

We are also still on track to achieve our overriding goal of the past four years: to complete the first stage of our management buyout during early 2021.

I believe it would be hard to deliver such a strong performance without a decent company culture. And anyone observing our slightly chaotic – but massively enjoyable – virtual Christmas party surely would have sensed the strong culture at CPL, despite the fact most of us rarely see each other in person these days.

Yet my answer to the question about whether we should scrap the office is still a resounding “no”. 

I believe that, for CPL, the office remains an important indicator of our company culture.

Earlier this year – before Covid hit the UK – a colleague gave me a copy of Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull, a founder of Pixar Animation Studios. At the start, he describes walking into the office every day, past a 20-foot-high sculpture of Luxo Jr, Pixar’s desk lamp mascot, and “into a spectacular glass-ceilinged atrium where a man-sized Buzz Lightyear and Woody… stand at attention”. 

Every morning, Catmull writes, “I am struck by the unique culture that defines this place.”

I rather like CPL’s offices and – if you ever visit – we too have a few interesting things on display in the reception area. But we definitely don’t have 20-foot-high sculptures or a glass-ceilinged atrium.

However, what I believe we do have – and many employees and visitors tell me this is the case – is a welcoming atmosphere and a sense that it is a fun, creative and interesting place to be. 

In short, it’s a place – especially when it’s alive with people collaborating and creating – that reflects the culture of CPL and our company purpose: “We help people belong.”

Most of us may never work full-time in the office again, but I really hope we’ll see it buzzing again in 2021... and beyond.

Mike Sewell
is managing director
at CPL

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