The established realities of working from home
In the spirit of making work human within October’s topic of vulnerability, I am interested to explore the realities of working in isolation. As the pandemic continues to impact our lives, both at home and at work, so we continue to observe and adapt.
It is apparent that if we had had an inkling that we would still be working in a lockdown situation (of varying degrees) several months’ down the line, we may have approached working from home differently from the outset.
How many of us still don’t have a dedicated work area? How many of us are feeling the loneliness of working in our domestic bubbles? How many of us are missing the daily social chat that brings us all closer together - the small talk, the seemingly pointless banter that, until now, didn’t register as the vitally important communication it is? Removing some of our work scaffolding can result in some serious vulnerability.
The realities of working from home cover a myriad of areas that can be largely broken down by challenges that are:
Our social challenges are obvious. Most of us aren’t used to spending the daily 9 to 5 in splendid isolation. We crave the interaction of our peers. We want to work together, discussing and sharing experiences of all kinds with our work colleagues. Actively collaborating reaffirms our thinking and gives us confidence in what we are doing.
Working from home removes the small talk from our lives so we can miss some of the deeper nuances we get from it (and probably didn’t appreciate when we had the chance!). Punctuating our days with video calls is all well and good but it doesn’t provide the same platform for sharing some of the more personal aspects of our lives, especially when the call is attended by many colleagues! Sharing on a personal level is vital for relationship building and helps us gain a better understanding of the people we work with.
A powerful aspect of office life has become apparent to me during these recent months. If you have a negative experience, there is nowhere as satisfying to share this, rationalise it or even rant about it, as being amongst work colleagues. Nothing is quite as soothing as being with the people you work with, to be able to reflect and say ‘wow, do you know what just happened?!’ To be able to chew something over and move on with people who truly understand is of immeasurable value. If you work on your own, negativity festers and hangs around you like a cloud. I personally am a ruminator and have to really manage this now that I am working at home. It’s not healthy so we certainly need to implement ways to help with managing challenges and negativity whilst being on our own.
We’ve all learned to use the imperfect but fantastic technology of Zoom and Teams. It’s great and incredibly useful but it doesn’t do the same thing as a face-to-face meeting with a shared plate of biscuits and piping hot coffee machine! It’s the best we have for now so I would encourage lots of calls, by phone or computer, in the same vein that we lift our heads at work and ask questions. There is nothing wrong in giving your business a ‘quick call culture’ so people feel they can ask questions, clarify things, delegate or organise in person. Having a ‘quick call culture’ means your staff will feel comfortable in making and receiving calls in the same way we might have talked across the office space. This is best implemented across the company rather than as a directive from above. If every manager or colleague says ‘call me about anything’ or ‘try this and call me’ they will encourage this kind of regular exchange as opposed to organising fewer, more formal phone calls.
By opening up the communications in a very real and practical way, your teams should be able to get through the day tackling the projects they are working on in a robust way. Where things go wrong or there is any kind of upset, it is vital that we all have someone to turn to within the organisation. This is something that can be implemented informally – just periodically check everyone has someone!
Some of us worked from home before the pandemic (just 5% in 2019 according to the Office for National Statistics) and some of us are learning as we go. My working week was based in my dedicated home office and peppered with calls, meetings and events. It is now similar but with less travel, fewer meetings and a lot more virtual interaction. I love the peace and focus but I really miss people!
In terms of having somewhere to work, it’s important that we work in a place that’s comfortable and equipped properly, however you negotiate this in your own space and within the limitations of shared space and family life.
Working from home blurs the boundaries a little so it is a good idea to be as flexible as you need to be to suit your employer whilst maintaining working hours that are reasonable. Working on your own is more intense than an office environment (and therefore often more productive) – so make sure you take breaks and stop when your day is done. Close the door, shut the laptop, put your files well away - do whatever it takes to signal that you are finished for the day. It’s OK to say no to calls and emails that fall outside our working day but sometimes our vulnerabilities propel us to respond to everything and anything.
Personal discipline challenges: Let’s call this the refrigerator problem. Or, the TV problem. Or, the puppy problem. For some people, the discipline of working from home comes naturally. For most, it requires careful behavior monitoring and adjusting. Everything from personal hygiene to knowing when to stop work can become a challenge. And everything that affects an employee’s health, physical or mental, will end up affecting their work.
[Source: Geekwire.com May 2020] – This is a good article on working from home, well worth a read.
Working from home gives everyone a taste of self-employment. This means some of your infrastructure is removed so you find yourself fixing the printer, cleaning your workspace and making your own coffee when you might have had those things taken care of before. It’s good to understand how you were supported and it could possibly engender feelings of appreciation as well as frustration! If you don’t have the skills to manage your own IT or the inclination to proof-read your writing, ask for help. A little vulnerability goes a long way in showing you are human.
Work-related, productivity challenges
These are, of course, job specific. The most important thing is to make sure everyone has what they need to do their job properly and also has lifelines and signposts for when they need assistance. A degree of flexibility is needed from the employer and employee as we work through the current circumstances.
Measuring output and results is a good way to work together and provide feedback, encouragement and reward when things are going well. Some businesses incorporate this into regular team meetings. Publicly though, I’d say focus on the positive, save any criticism for one-to-ones.
The realities of working from home are becoming more entrenched the further we go through the months owned by this virus but it is possible to stay positive, focused and see the potential for change that we can take forward (more of that in a future article). The Chinese for ‘crisis’ is ‘opportunity’ and I believe there is plenty of good stuff we can carry forward to reshape how we operate in the future.