The pandemic has certainly forced us to change the way we do a number of things.
There are some annoying extra steps we must take in particular areas, but there are also some benefits. The increased acceptance of working from home is definitely one the pros. While it’s still too early to know the full extent of advantages and challenges, it’s clear that working from home is here to stay.
Some of the key advantages include cutting out commute times and adding flexibility to the workday. Additionally, many companies communicate largely with people in different time zones and working from home makes it easier to coordinate one’s schedule for meetings. Tools like Zoom, Team, and automated file systems make it possible to still have meetings, communicate with coworkers, and interact with teammates. Getting rid of the need for office space can save companies tons of money. In general, working from home reduces distractions and stress and has the potential to increase productivity. There are also preliminary indications that it decreases turnover.
From a social perspective, working from home can lessen many burdens. Rent and housing in crowded cities are already becoming less of a problem. Energy utilization and pollution are being reduced. The most important aspect, however, may be allowing more time for family, self-care, and other life requirements that often get neglected when we are rushing around constantly.
Of course, there are potential concerns regarding work from home situation, but they should be viewed as challenges and not barriers. For example, working from home doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be a few days a week with in-office meetings now and then. There are plenty of ways to compromise.
I think the most significant concern may be the loss of unplanned collaboration, informal communication, brainstorming, etc. Lunch with colleagues and after work socialization can have numerous benefits. Efforts should be made to encourage positive social interactions among coworkers while still eliminating unnecessary meetings and gossip.
Much of the advice I see regarding working from home is focused on how to make it the same as being in the office: Set a schedule, create a separate area for work, don’t allow interruptions, work when you are most productive, maximize technology, plan breaks, communicate plans with family members, interact with other adults, etc.
I argue that many of those recommendations reverse several of the benefits of working at home. In particular, a key advantage of working from home is the flexibility. You simply can’t plan when you will be most productive or are inspired by an idea. You don’t know in advance when you’ll need to spend extra time working on a last minute project, when your child will get sick, or when you’ll wake up with a migraine. Opportunities often occur randomly or unexpectedly, just like emergencies. Flexibility allows you to get a later start if you’re burnt out and need a break or to start early if you want to spend the afternoon baking with your kids.
I do believe that you need parameters with regards to what, when, and where you need to accomplish work. However, you need the flexibility to determine how these tasks will be accomplished. For example, detailed math and analytical work mostly require time blocks, isolation, and attention while creative work (like design or writing) may be best facilitated by trips, breaks, and external inspiration.
Working at home also requires special attention to interactions. How do you communicate to a two-year-old that you are working and can’t be interrupted? Conversely, how do you ensure your boss or subordinates understand your progress and challenges?
Zoom is helpful, but there are difficulties as I’m sure you’ve encountered. You need to develop procedures that ensure you are truly communicating with colleagues, clients, suppliers, customers, and peers. This will be especially complex until the pandemic restrictions are relaxed. In the meantime, extra attention should be given to communication and ensuring everyone is on the same page.
While many have worked at home for years, its extensive use will continue to evolve. The impact and duration of the pandemic is still evolving and we all have questions and concerns: Will restaurants open to increase interaction opportunities for people working from home? When will safe travel return? How effective are Zoom meetings compared to in-office or off-site meetings?
It’s important to remember that working from home will continue to improve as workers and organizations learn best practices and general guidelines. For example, when are the best times to work at home or spend time with your kids? When will schools become more classroom-focused so that those distractions are reduced? Technology and measurement will also improve which can help measure results and develop new solutions.
Whether you love or hate it, working from home is here to stay. Once we all accept that, we can focus on improving and managing the great opportunities it presents. Logistics and practices regarding work from home situations will continue to change as advancements are made, companies and cities adapt to disruptions, and the impact of the pandemic evolves. At the end of the day, however, working from home can only be successful if we ensure that human interaction and communication are stabilized. Communication is the foundation of all relationships and, as you know, business is about relationships.
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