Even six months ago, working from home was foreign for a number of us. Now, it seems to be here to stay. This is not a ‘how to’ article – I am quite sure you’ve come across many of them. I thought I’d reflect on my own experiences of working from home, both for me personally and for those I have worked with. If working from home is here to stay, in whatever form it takes, we should do some analysis to make a few improvements.
First, I’ll tackle the good bits! There are plenty. I do enjoy having days where I can be more flexible in my approach, without having pressure to ‘dress to impress’ or to sit in meeting rooms for hours. Taking it down a pressure-notch has been healthy for me. I know I am not the only one. I noticed with some surprise last week that when I arrived at my weekend days (they have been blurring a bit) I didn’t have a mountain of washing! When I take a work-break I find that while I’m waiting for my kettle, I’m putting a load on. Well, that was unexpected. It is worth mentioning though, because work-life balance is important to most of us. If I can be more efficient in both, then it is a win-win.
Then there is focus. I’ve noticed when I work from home I have a lot less interruptions. It’s a strange phenomenon. People seem to think that I’m less able to be disturbed when they can’t see me! Those office drop-ins just don’t occur and I’ve noticed that much of the conversation was not of a critical nature, because people don’t call me about it either. That means that I can focus and I do get a lot more solid work done in the same amount of time. This must be a win for employers too! I find that I am driving my day’s work, rather than having it dictated to me (but I do work in HR, so expecting the unexpected is par for the course). I find that I am also eating lunch – at lunch-time. There’s an added bonus.
Now, there is an edge to working from home. I don’t believe it fits naturally for everyone. Nor do I believe that just because you can take your computer home, you should start working from home. Some people just don’t function as well being taken out of their social work environment. It is far more difficult for teams that are used to calling across the office or down the corridor to their colleagues, too. Suddenly you have to apply some effort to set up that zoom meeting or pick up the phone. Suddenly you begin to question whether that thing you want to say is worthy of a phone-call. The down-side to this is that we can lose information that feeds and informs our workspace. I really do think that these little conversations held around the coffee machine are important – at least, some of them are. Suddenly without the office drop-ins and incidental conversations I found that I was quickly out of the loop on certain things. None of them were critical, but some of them were reasonably important. I can’t do my role well as a HR person when I am in a vacuum. HR people need to be where the people are!
Of course there is also the physical aspect of working from home. I find that I am not good at remembering to get up and take a break. When I’m in my zone, I can sit for hours. While productive, it can be really bad for my neck, back, eyes and even circulation. Those office-drop ins, the trips to the photocopier and incidental meetings really do get us up and moving. It’s amazing to me how much less I move at home. Of course, employers must ensure that they provide safe working environments for their employees – and this includes at home. However, self-employed people are at risk of not looking after themselves too, and they don’t have anyone checking in on them. Making sure that your office set-up is ergonomically friendly for your body is very important. We don’t want to see an increase in postural aches, pains and issues as a result of WFH. Beds and dining room tables are not great places to work from day after day, despite the romantic notion that may have attached to these flexi work-spaces.
I think the initial excitement of wearing pajama pants with slippers ‘to work’ has now worn off. People are experiencing zoom fatigue and a variety of emotions ranging from apathy to depression. It is very important that we stay connected, but sometimes another zoom meeting is not the answer. We shouldn’t assume that everyone is experiencing WFH the same way. I have heard both responses: “I’d love to do more of this” and “I’m not doing well at all”. When you begin to see your colleagues turn up to their zoom work meeting in their sleepwear, it’s time to rethink WFH. I’ve also heard stories within my sphere of employees being far too over-worked and it is easy for this one to slip through, because managers are managing from a distance. When your workdays are longer at home than in the office and your productivity remains the same, then there is a problem.
WFH is neither good, nor bad. It may be perfect for some and a terrible idea for others. With flexible working arrangements comes the need to manage our workers and ourselves, ensuring that we are safe, productive and connected. Connected is now a catchy term, but it is developing negative connotations. Connected is more than an ear-piece and a screen. Connected involves intentionality and effort. It is a very human thing to do and we need to treat each other as unique beings, not plug-in points.
Whatever your WFH experience is, try to make it work for you as well as others you work with. And don’t be afraid to speak up when it’s not working. Don’t disappear behind your screens, emails and chat icons. Be you.