It hasn’t been great for everyone. Many office-based employees have had plenty of practice at WFH over the last couple of years. Some have loved it others not so much.
Some have perhaps been treading water waiting to get back to normal only to find that the management has other plans. The office is closing or you’re only going to be welcome two days a week and over time, the intention is that WFH becomes ‘normal’.
Others are back in already or will be soon. The boss likes to be able to see everyone at work and believes there has been a loss of efficiency. I have heard some instances where social distancing was being ignored.
As with all things, there is a spectrum of ideas and wisdom on the subject and no one view is universally correct. Every situation is unique and the real answer for most businesses will be somewhere in the middle.
The office environment can be inspiring – the general buzz, sparking off one another and social interaction. This can foster a culture that is positive and productive. Balance that against removing the time, cost and effort of commuting, the lack of interruptions to the working day and the ability to communicate with everybody and anybody by video call, phone call, email, text and all without having to go anywhere.
However, there are downsides to both scenarios. Extremes, in most circumstances, do not produce good outcomes.
So, what should a business be looking to do, so they strike the right balance between office interaction and home working? The challenge is that everyone is different. Each worker, staff member, employee, has different needs, ambitions, requirements, strengths and weaknesses. It has always been this way but previously we have had a ‘one size fits all’ solution of going to the office every day. That said, WFH is not new and some businesses have been doing it very successfully for many years.
‘Choice’ is key in drawing some conclusions about how to make the most of your staff and your resources. Don’t force a member of staff with a difficult or complicated home-life, to work from home and if productivity is not being affected, don’t force the staff member into the office, who is so much happier working from home.
‘Resourcing’ is vital to make your people as effective at home as they can be at the office. That means helping them find a dedicated area in their home – not necessarily a separate room. Making sure they have a proper desk and a comfortable seat so that their physical health doesn’t suffer. They need the equivalent IT hardware, software and support at home, that they would have in the office, including broadband and mobile, so they can work effectively and without disruption.
‘Community’, as we have already seen, is important to many workers. Real friendships and support networks are established at work and these are diluted when people are not together. The water-fountain conversations are not going to take place unless an environment is created where that can happen. Being in the office will not be about shutting yourself away to work but about meeting, socialising – communicating face to face. This is also the driver for the culture of an organisation, which needs careful nurturing within a more dispersed group of workers. Work form home and socialise in the office.
‘Accountability and measurement’ are important not just for managing remote workers but also for the workers themselves, so they can have the confidence that they are adapting and knowing they are seen to be effective. Letting people know its OK to water the plants in their lunch hour and start the day by taking the children to school, will produce a relaxed and fulfilled workforce keen to put in the maximum.
‘Flexibility and controls’ will help everyone to know where they are and to flourish. For some, flexible work hours are what make WFH possible. If you have young children, being able to work in the evenings may be the only way. On the other hand, if having done a days work, a staff member can’t put the work down and enjoy an evening as they would have, some intervention may be helpful. Knowing the measurement is there in the background will encourage people into a routine that suits them and delivers what their job description requires.
Managed “office time” enables the interaction that is always going to be important and should not be downplayed. Calendar software and a regime that sees everyone coming in for as many days as is appropriate, make managing this vital component possible. Making changes to the floor-space that the new model requires, will take much longer and needs careful consideration and potentially expert help and advice. Every unused work-station costs thousands on the bottom line and fine-tuning this costly and inflexible resource could take several years, so it’s not too soon to start.
WFH has been a revelation to many, who never thought it was feasible. It has brought about a realisation that doing things the way we always have, may have been holding us back and that new ways of working can bring so many benefits. The cost savings a business can achieve through properly resourced WFH are substantial as well as potentially increased staff well-being and productivity.