At the start of lockdown there seemed to be story after story extolling the virtues of working from home. There was the odd smattering of people concerned about the mental health of workers, but most of what I saw seemed to be talking about working from home being the new normal. I was fine with that as I like working from home, but I know it doesn’t suit everyone.
Now that we in the UK are starting to ease lockdown restrictions, I see more stories about companies who are pushing to get everyone back in the office, or telling us how bad working from home is for us.
It feels like something dodgy is going on here, and here are two possible explanations.
- Companies never really had any intentions of making working from home the new normal, but were telling us they were to try and get us into that frame of mind, so we didn’t make any waves. Now they see the “light at the end of the tunnel”, they are starting the reverse campaign, trying to convince us being in the office is best for us.
- Companies thought working from home would work, but found out it didn’t, and want to return to the more productive state.
I know which one I think it is! Here’s a clue. The first one! I’m sure there are some companies or roles where a face to face is better, but I’m sure much of that is due to them not embracing technology and not understanding how to address their issues.
But what do people really want?
During the initial part of lockdown I often felt like a lone dissenting voice at staff briefings when I expressed my preference to work from home. Much later we did a staff survey where the vast majority of people said they would like to work at least some of the time from home. A more flexible approach to work you might say.
I think the reality is there are some people who are desperate to get back to the office, some people who are dreading it, and some people who want a mix of the two.
My own company had a very backward attitude to flexible working. It was all over the website that flexible working was a thing, but when you tried to do it there were roadblocks. There was always a “good reason” why it was a bad idea.
Over the course of lockdown there have been waves of softening and hardening of attitudes to this, but I find myself in a position where today I’m signing a petition to encourage my employer to take flexible working seriously. Several hundred other people clearly aren’t confident the current attitudes to flexible working will remain once we are out of lockdown. This despite the results of the staff survey, and numerous reports of benefits of flexible working…
So what do you want?
I want employers to understand there is a spectrum of attitudes towards working from home, and they should accommodate that. If you want to get the best out of your people, you’ve got to put them in a position to excel. Forcing undesirable working arrangements on people will result in a long term negative. Acceptance of flexible working arrangements seems the only sensible way forward to me.
But what about X?
I see so many excuses about why working from home is bad, and to be quite honest most of them are clearly bullshit.
People will be lazy and slack off. If you have no real measure of productivity, then you are a bad manager/company. If you do have a real measure of productivity, then you will know if someone is slacking off or not, and you should deal with them accordingly. I’m guessing those same people will be slacking off in the office too! Being physically present in an office is not going to make a lazy person into a productivity fiend.
It makes meetings hard. Oh FFS, there are so many ways to make meetings more efficient, the main one being don’t have so many meetings in the first place. I can’t tell you how often I’m invited to meetings with no agenda, which result in no real action points. Most of the time they could be replaced with one email saying, “This is what we plan to do. Shout up if you think that’s a bad idea or have any questions.” There is an obsession with meeting culture. For some people, their role is 90% meetings. Maybe that’s necessary for them, but it doesn’t mean it’s the same for all of us, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t cope really easily with online meetings.
What’s going to happen?
I don’t know. What I do know is after working from home for over a year, many people have a rose coloured view of working in the office. Once they start having to commute again, wasting hours of their day, wasting lots of money, and having to deal with “that annoying prick” face to face again, some will think about how things were in the good old days of lockdown…
What’s my preference?
If someone gave me the option of 100% from home or 100% from the office, I would pick 100% home. I’m not totally sure how I feel about a mix. I think it’s a bad idea and I would like to be 100% working from home, but maybe my mind would change after a little time in the office. What I do know is if my company push hard for 100% office-based work, or even a majority of time, I am not going to be happy.
I’m happy to hear other opinions, but remember your opinion is not shared by everyone. I’m expressing my opinion. I’m not assuming the world agrees with me. You are entitled to be wrong. 🙂 That was a joke!