Written by Paul Whybrow
At home, during the intense period of Covid-19 lockdown, there was one phrase that everyone was used to hearing multiple times a day “I am just heading off now for my next Zoom meeting”. To be honest, before this time, before all the household had relocated to our Sydney suburban home for full-time work and study, I hadn’t heard of Zoom. Wherever in the world I was connecting with colleagues or friends, to have a work call, social virtual drinks or chat with friends a ‘Zoom call’ seemed to be the phrase of choice, whatever actual platform was used.
Using Zoom or one of the other video platforms has become second nature during this period. It seemed amazing how people who loved office environments and had avoided the dreaded video or phone conferences were becoming hooked on virtual daily catch ups, video trivia games, cross global family catch ups and webcast learning.
For many professionals around the globe, 2020 will be remembered as the time we took home and remoteworking seriously. Some businesses which had been resisting home working for years with a fear of productivity drops, lack of connectivity with the full team and concern that management control would be lost (as they say out of sight and out of mind!) had to rapidly bounce to 100% homeworking in a matter of days.
Just as it was around the world, many Australian homes becamemulti-business offices and for those with children they became interactive home learning hubs too. Yes, talking to friends andcolleagues, there are many tales of where this new way of operating was not ideal to say the least – time-share of the kitchen bench or the inevitable cat jumping on the keyboard in the middle of your exec team meeting was certainly par for the course.
As a lover of meeting people in person for coffee meetings, social drinks and the lunchtime sandwich get to gether, I was certainly a fish out of water being confined to one suburban home, although we were very lucky to have plenty of space to all operate independently, so I am not complaining.
Since running my own business, I have really become a mobile and remote worker and personally I love it. Whether it is meeting in a city cafe, working at a beachside lo cation, writing in an airport lounge or making calls in my home office I really thrive on the flexibility and variety and I hope my clients really benefit from thistoo.
As people started heading back to offices in a socially distanced Covid-safe environment, the question is how many people and businesses will see a permanent shift to a much higher level of home working?
As we all ponder that question in the months and years after the pandemic has subsided, I wanted to share my own top 5 benefits and challenges of shifting to working from home 100% of the time.
1.Flexi work time – One of the biggest advan- tages potentially to both employers and em- ployees is thatwith the home and work bar- riers down any time can be work If you need to pick the kids up from school, pop to the shops, put the washing on or spend time shopping online, then it is easy to shift the working day to what suits you, and to fit some home activities into the mix very easi- ly. For the employer,if there needs to be the out of hours conference call or a document to be looked at after hours, there is likely to be much more happiness to do that, when it just slips within home life.
2.Early home time – If you dislike the com- mute to your place of work because it is not productive time, then this is a massive bonus which benefits you the further you are from home. If you live a 45-minute trip to work, that is a 90- minute gain on your day, and for an 8-hr day that is 18.75% gain in your free time – how fantastic is that! The big advantage I see is at the end of the day, whether you want to get home to play with the kids, take the dog for a stroll or fit in that daylight activity, then everyday working at home you could get that. If you love the commute as it is your time to watch your favourite show on the train, then you can still do that just without the travelling part.
3.Diverse and democratic collaboration – Strong team and personal collaboration, I be- lieve, is vital forpersonal and business success. The problem is that often those with the louder voice or morestronger personal- ities (and that has been me many a time!) tend to dominate in meetings orworkshops environments. Being remote can mean that different ways get used to canvas, collabo- rate and create ideas. There can be much more use of online collaborative tools or private messaging for example which could, if done genuinely, encourage much more diverse collaboration, especially for those that are already remote and couldn’t take part in physical office events, and could have been disadvantaged in the collaboration
4. Less observation – For the employee, consultant or contractor who is not located right next to their key stakeholders or employers, this can be a positive, as long as you are a strongly self-motivated person. The obvious advantage is that you are not feeling you are being watched all the time and so you are being measured far more on your output rather than whether you arephysically sat at a desk and not doing your work sat in the sunshine or being judged on how many cof- fee breaks you take a day. On the flip side, if you work best when others are constantly there to move you along in your work, with- out that constant observation or easy ac- cess to support, working at home could be a disaster for you and the business.
5. Total control – Saving the best to last, as this is the major advantage of all. There is very strong evidence that the more you are in control of your destiny then the more you enjoy life and the less stressed you are. Run- ning my own business, this is the one I love the most: freedom to do work you need to, and generally when you want to. Clearly not all home working can givethis advantage. If you are required by customers or colleagues for a set number of hours, it may still feel like you are in the office. That said, you are likely to have total control over so much more, if you wantyour favourite photos and objects around you, why not, if you want the heating on really high, that is yourcomplete choice. In many ways it may be the really small things that can make your day fun and engaging which you can create for yourself, without asking anyone’s permission – and that is a form of total control!
1.Distractions and loss of support – If you have a quiet house and space for your own working area then working at home could be a bliss for you. If you have a busy home with lots of distractions, then it can be hard going. As many parents discovered during a lock down period giving attention to home schooling and home working can be a chal- lenge to say the Also, if you love being distracted thenhome working is ideal: there are just so many things that can seem so much more important right now than the box of unopened emails. Being remote also means it is harder to grab that quick bit of support or get a quick question answered. It’s far easier to walk round to a desk to ask whether this sentence reads OK, than drop a message or call to find out.
2.Casual connections – A big trend in creating more connected offices was the shift to open plan and the creation of many spaces for people to bump into each other or have quick Throughout my career, I have found these moments as critical to doing business and solving problems, espe- cially when the people concerned are hidden away or not keen to respond to your phone or message. This simply can’t happen easily in a remote digital world and so if you benefit from these corridor conversations, you could find it frustrating in the long term.
3. Workplace friends and socialising – Humans overall are social, many of us love our day at work because of our colleagues who become our friends. Not having easy access to share news, gossip oreven solve a work problem together, is much more of a challenge and requires harder work to achieve.How many times do we see a friend in the office who understands the context of our ongoingconversations and secrets, and with one nod or glance we can message to meet straight away as we have something interesting to share! It is also the chance meetings at work that build cross company friendships which are much tricker to kick off at the end of a 20 person daily video
4.Conversation body language – It is easy to sometimes forget that 60-80% of negotiating across a table comes from body language and 55% of a message is delivered through body language, with the actual content being around 7%. When you are remote and connecting by phone or a video meet- ing, it is really hard to pick up the incredible nuance that in-person body language gives you. I believe it is therefore more difficult to read the cues and catch the correct emotion and therefore remote connectivity can lead to big communication gaps, which over a period could become communication
5. Shared team focus and motivation – Many sales operations love a lively group environment because it sparks a very compet- itive situation that ultimately leads to more sales. In a physical location it is easier for a leader to create a shared team focus that individuals want to be part of, so that they can be seen as positive to the team This could be working to a team deadline or acommon goal, where being all together spurs participation to the goal and creates the environment for unexpected sparks of brilliance and innovation.
As a final thought, it is interesting to con- sider what would have happened if we had had a Covid-01 pandemic. In 2001, our world was very different to now in a technological sense. All the capabilities that we have now to just shift to home and stay connected would simply have been impossible atthat stage. It is there- fore possible that either we would have stayed at work longer and the medical impacts could have been far worse, or we shift- ed to home anddramatically more busi- nesses stopped functioning and the economic impact would have been far worse. Either way, technology is an un- sung hero here that has played a very key part in our abilityfor a stronger eco- nomic response to the virus.
Naturally as the post-pandemic work life emerges, there are lots of debates and questions on what the norm will be.
Are city centres doomed to become ghost towns as many professionals stay working at home? Will the daily com- mute become a thing of the past or if not, something that will be way smaller than it is now? Or will people over a few years just revert back to where we are driven by businesses that prefer the productivity benefits of control and observation to ensure workers maximise their effort per paid hour?
Like most change, it is likely to be an evolution rather than a revolution, and we will discover what it turns out to be over the next few years.
As such, I am anticipating that for someone like me, who loves connecting, com- municating and collaborating in person, there still will be an opportunity to enjoy working the way I love to.
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