It’s time to get serious about working from home
"So it’s official, working from home (or ‘wfh’ as it’s now called) is here for the foreseeable future.  The latest spikes in Covid-19 around the world have spelled out very clearly that the notion of returning to the office even part-time is not happening any time soon.   Change takes time (and needs a process) Weren’t […]"

So it’s official, working from home (or ‘wfh’ as it’s now called) is here for the foreseeable future.  The latest spikes in Covid-19 around the world have spelled out very clearly that the notion of returning to the office even part-time is not happening any time soon.  

Change takes time (and needs a process)

Weren’t we all a teensy bit disappointed? The ‘all hands to the pump’ survivor phase many people experienced at the start of lockdown (who’s had a meeting in a funny hat lately?) is a distant memory.  Instead, we now read stories of overwork, mental health risk and huge anxiety.   Unsurprisingly (and as this recent survey confirms), most people would prefer to work flexibly in the future i.e. some wfh and some office time.  This is not a surprise to many, but it’s also not easy to achieve.  Significant cultural change like this will not happen fast and it won’t happen without putting the right support in place for employees at all levels.   And there’s the rest of the pandemic to get through first….

Long experience of change initiatives has shown us that few companies do this well.  In the case of flexible working it feels as though it’s assumed that we will seamlessly transition into this new way of working without any problems and because we say we want it then it will be ok.  That’s not how it works.

Changing things to this extent requires significant support for employees – and this is the bit that most companies cut out or try to fast track.  Not everyone accepts and adapts to new things at the same time – you need to plan for your ‘laggards’ (i.e. the last people to change). This takes time (and is therefore unattractive)  but if you don’t get them, then the plan won’t work.

It’s time to get out of our comfort zone

If you think about it,  working flexibly is not something we inherently know how to do.  For decades, most people in office-based jobs have worked Monday-Friday from roughly 9-5. That is what we have all been trained to do – it’s our comfort zone.  When those rules are no longer applicable what happens? We do a range of things: panic, take it easy, overwork, underwork, micro-manage, become hands-off….the list goes on. In the absence of a plan or a process, everyone is trying their best but they are all doing their own thing.  

So providing the right training and support for employees is essential to ensure they remain in a positive mental space and therefore productive.  This need not be overly complicated or expensive – you need to start by helping them to think differently about work.  

And that means all employees

Managers need help shifting from working in an environment where their teams are visible.  This is obviously just a construct of office based working and in real terms is pretty meaningless but it’s what they know.  Measuring productivity in terms of units of time is how it’s always been done.  Managers are feeling out of control – they have little leverage when their team member is at the end of a zoom call or an email.  They need practical help to a) come to terms with it and b) come up with new ways to manage it.

Employees also need support.  Visibility is difficult whilst working from home.  Feedback tends to disappear so how do they know they’re doing a good enough job?  They get lonely and feel isolated.  They have personal circumstances that now need to be acknowledged and accommodated.  Are they able to ask and are their managers able to support them?

So providing the right training and support for employees is essential to ensure they remain in a positive mental space and therefore productive.  This need not be overly complicated or expensive – you need to start by helping them to think differently about work.  

Photo by Aleks Marinkovic on Unsplash