Working from home, the good, the bad and the ugly
"70+ DAYS INTO LOCKDOWN AND THE BOUNDARIES ARE THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN HOME AND WORK ARE MORE BLURRED THAN EVER, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR WORKPLACE CULTURE? According to a 2009 study on changing behaviours, the average amount of time it took participants to change a habit, was 66 days. What was more interesting was that […]"

70+ DAYS INTO LOCKDOWN AND THE BOUNDARIES ARE THE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN HOME AND WORK ARE MORE BLURRED THAN EVER, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR WORKPLACE CULTURE?

According to a 2009 study on changing behaviours, the average amount of time it took participants to change a habit, was 66 days. What was more interesting was that the number of days varied massively according to the behaviour, the person and the circumstances.

People are every organisation’s most valuable asset, so those three parameters are important in how organisations judge their teams’ ability to work effectively in lockdown and what decisions they make for the future workplace.

Circumstances

Pre pandemic, an individual’s circumstances were, of course, relevant to their performance.  However, when we’re in the office we’re all “equal” to a lesser or greater extent, we may fight for the window seat, we may have different working patterns, but we’re all visible, others can witness our contribution, our teams can ask us for help and in turn, offer to help us sometimes without us asking for it. There is also a good chance that we pick on the mood of those that we work closely with or manage.

In lockdown, individuals within a team may be working in vastly different circumstances:

  • They may have kids so will be solely or partly responsible for home-schooling and childcare.
  • They may share a house or flat and have nowhere suitable to work.
  • They may have connectivity issues, living somewhere with poor broadband or wifi or be sharing it with others.
  • They may be a new starter at the company and have no sense of “how things work around here” and no relationship with their team, line manager or co-workers.

Personal preferences

How we react to working from home in lockdown is also affected by our communication preferences those that are more introverted and thrive better working alone may be dealing with the current norm better than those that are more extraverted and get their energy from being around other people. The reality is most of us oscillate along that continuum, we’ve spoken to clients who have been surprised that they have embraced the isolation better than they expected despite being extraverts and others who have unexpectedly been floored by the isolation. It’s important to think about how your team interacts, how the individuals communicate and what the challenges might be working remotely. We’ll be covering this in more detail in a future post.

What happens to the culture?

We’ve all been asked to change the way we act and go about our daily lives, from a work point of view, for those of us still able to work, that change in behaviour may be relatively small (if we’re used to working from home) or a massive step change, many organisations have resisted remote working due to operational challenges or company policy. For many people overcoming the tech hurdles can be frustrating at best and overwhelming at worst.

We’ve trained a few organisations on moving to remote working (pre-lockdown) and it’s really important that there is a focus on what the output of an individual, team or organisation is and how that is measured.  What we’ve heard though is that many of the objections to remote working are around managers not being in control, not being able to see what their team are doing, a lack of trust that people will work hard if they’re not in an office environment. 

So far the general sense is that working from home is better than expected and that productivity levels have been maintained, but what does that mean? 

A report published by Nord VPN which tracks when users connect and disconnect from their service, showed that in the UK the working day has extended by 2 hours, so what we may have gained from not having to commute we’re adding to our working day. Whether that’s because we feel the need to compensate for managing childcare or because we’re bored and we “might as well” do some more emails.

So if as an organisation you’re seeing increased productivity, is that actual overwork as there isn’t an effective demarcation between home and work? Are some of the toxic behaviours that can prevail in an office environment (staying until the boss goes home, replying to emails in evenings and weekends, trying to appear busy 24/7) creeping into the working from home culture?

Research carried out by Direct Line in May shows that 44% of people will ask for a permanent move to flexible working (driven predominately by saving money and spending more time with family) and that bodes well for those that would like to work more flexibly, in particular parents.

But let’s not forget that although there are those that would prefer not to return to the office at all some (probably younger, with no kids), can’t wait to get back as they’re missing the social interaction of their colleagues and the sense of belonging.

It’s almost impossible to maintain the exact workplace culture that existed pre-covid-19. Our view is that a strong culture which has been well communicated and well modelled by the behaviour of its employees has a much better chance to stay alive in lockdown. Even if that desired culture isn’t well established, working out what behaviours we want to keep, stop or start is a great exercise to do as a team, and can highlight differing motivations and preferences.

With a new way of working for many of us inevitably, not everything will be a smooth transition.

Bad remote working behaviour we’ve heard about includes:

  • E-presenteeism, the pressure to be “always-on” and always available.
  • Rumours of companies bringing in employee surveillance tech.
  • Relentless video meetings. 
  • Micromanagement via email, Microsoft Teams, etc.
  • Expectations that parents must work evenings and weekends to “catch up”.
  • People being excluded from meetings they would normally attend.
  • No “one to ones” with line managers taking place.
  • The pressure to complete work that is now irrelevant in lockdown.

Any major change to how and where we work gives us the opportunity to review what works and what doesn’t. Great communication is even more important when we’re not working face to face, maintaining trust and connection with our colleagues is vital.

Here are some examples of good behaviour we’ve heard about:

  • Checking in regularly with individuals to establish how they’re doing and when they’re able to work.
  • Creating a regular time when leaders host an “ask me anything” session.
  • Allowing staff a way of sharing resources on working from home, homeschooling etc.
  • Arranging social get-togethers for those that want them (virtual drinks, quizzes etc)
  • Providing support for wellbeing and mental health.
  • Regular communication from leadership.
  • Creating ideas forum for replacing ad-hoc interactions.
  • Recognising the work and effort of individuals and teams.

As we’ve moved through the initial “emergency” phase of lockdown we’re not yet at the recovery stage for the workplace. Psychologists refer to a stage of regression prior to recovery where we may feel that we have a loss of purpose, feel tired, irritable and less productive. So it’s important to take stock and reflect on what has gone well and what hasn’t?  What is missing from our working lives that we need to function better and enjoy our work? 

Workplace culture is bought to life by the interaction of employees. Not having the chance meetings and conversations that happen in an office environment reduces our feeling of connectedness but there’s also evidence that those interactions between individuals that don’t normally work together are often the source of innovation and creativity.

Now is the time to ask for feedback, listen to peoples experiences so far, share those good and bad behaviours and agree on what you want your workplace culture to be.