The home office and the new work environment.
The home office is a big change that is here to stay. Now, companies have a great opportunity.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, let’s say, since March or April 2020, I’ve been working from home, 5 days a week.
From one day to the other, how I collaborated with my company, my team, and my colleagues have changed, perhaps forever.
No more in-person meetings or interruptions at the desk to discuss projects or ideas. But not even the classic breaks at the coffee machine.
Today, all my work passes through video collaboration tools, cloud environments, and my internet connection's quality has become a critical point in my workplace.
It must be shared between the streaming cartoons that keep my two daughters happy and calm while they are at home. The various video calls I make throughout the day, between colleagues on different continents.
The volume of my mail electronics is constantly increasing, the number of meetings has definitely increased, and honestly, the time I spend in front of the display does not stop to increase.
From the office to remote working
My company has responded in an impressive way to the sudden challenges the pandemic has imposed on our business continuity. So, I and all my colleagues, we were able to absorb the impact, somehow.
During these last months, thousands of colleagues in several countries and I migrated from a standard office routine to a complete remote mode in a matter of days, if not hours…everything considered, in a very smooth way …
In my career, I have seen so much more troubled transitions in very much less demanding migrations... and I could say that we have made a virtue out of necessity, learning together to get the most out of the collaboration tools we have in the company and incredibly accelerating the introduction of some new ones.
But I am fortunate to have a dedicated work environment at home, with an ergonomic chair, dual monitor, and adequate lighting, and an excellent internet connection,
but I know stories of some of my colleagues who faced some serious challenges while working sitting on the kitchen chair, divided between pots and stoves and the laptop;
and some others who have been working for several days, lying on the sofa in the living room, dividing the attention between emails and the TV that entertained their children, who were also put under pressure during the early days of the pandemic.
Challenges when working remotely
Among the challenges I’ve encountered during this month working exclusively from home, there was the (lack of) interaction between in-person and remote colleagues, which I believe I’ve solved by increasing the daily connections with my team, often using video at the beginning, which created a semi-presential experience, and it helped a lot.
A second factor is the communication approach that had to be adapted, both official and informal. Meetings, events, checkpoints for projects, everything had to be better planned, and everyone had to be more involved.
But in the end, this simple change resulted in a considerable enhancement in the communication and the sharing between my team.
And the third is related to productivity.
We remote employees had a little pressure (honestly not imposed by my company or my managers but from my quite demanding self-critic alter ego) to produce as much or more than an average face-to-face employee. I’ve managed this challenge by focusing on keeping my work organized and laser-focused on completing each task I had at the moment.
The truth is that, in the world of work, the demand for results, added to the fear of not being able to deliver correctly, can be paralyzing and severely damage the mental health of people, especially during a pandemic.
On top of that, there is the specter of being fired from one minute to the next or the company you work for simply breaking up. These factors can make it more difficult to concentrate.
In this aspect, my company, from the top executives to the nearest manager, had shown their best since the beginning of this crisis, constantly communicating with all the employees, showing a solid leadership and vision, and of course, always demonstrating with facts, the intention to protect the workforce.
Apart from all that, remote work itself imposes many other difficulties on its own. According to research carried out by Buffer in the last three years, the main difficulties for those who intend to work remotely remain the same: communication, collaboration, and, of course, loneliness. The difference is that this percentage has only increased over the years.
The report State of the Remote work 2020 points out that the biggest difficulties facing the home office are:
- Collaboration and communication (20%)
- Loneliness (20%)
- Difficulty disconnecting from work (18%)
- Distractions at home (12%)
- Being in a different time zone than colleagues (10%)
- Stay motivated (7%)
- Take a vacation (5%)
- Good wifi connection (3%)
- Others (5%)
Some claim that it is not even a good time to measure the effectiveness of remote work. According to Erin Kelly, professor of work and organizations from MIT at Sloan School of Management, “what the world is experiencing today with Covid-19 is not a fair test for the home office, because it is such an atypical period” and one of the reasons for the greatest frustration (and one that can lead remote professionals to burnout, according to her, is the culture of control in organizations.
Erin is co-author of the book “Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About it” released in late March, in the middle of the spread of the global pandemic. Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen report an experiment they did over five years to implement flexible work in a company.
They show that by giving employees more autonomy and introducing more creative assessments in the home office, the company has increased productivity and reduced turnover and stress.
During the last years, I’ve learned that, as in the physical space of the office, when working remotely, I like to be “treated like an adult” and, instead of controlling the number of hours worked. My response time to emails and chats, the best way to evaluate me as an employee is to focus more on my work quality.
Are we ready for this?
After nearly half a year of the pandemic, the time of overnight migrations from on-prem to home office should have passed, and companies and collaborators around the world seem to have found a point of balance in this new working horizon.
However, unfortunately, the pandemic is still among us, and seeing from recent numbers, especially here in Europe, it seems to have arrived the moment to realize that the time of improvisation has passed, that we must realize that the work environment will never go back to what it was before and that the so-called home office is here to stay. So we must prepare ourselves adequately.
To allow us to continue to be productive, respecting our health and well-being, this change necessarily involves setting up an efficient and ergonomic workstation at home, with PCs and Wi-Fis that are adequate to the new rhythms and ways of working ;
On the other hand, for companies, it will certainly be necessary to have a strategy for migrating data and services to more efficient and secure solutions, possibly in the cloud, always keeping an eye on one fundamental thing: security protocols because it is there that a fundamental game is played for the transition to the new way of working.
How can we make the most of remote work?
Since I've started working with large corporations, I have had countless changes in the workplace.
I have worked in huge offices with panoramic windows in steel glass towers, but I have also worked in small cubicles, with lower and lower walls up to the infamous open-spaces.
Not to mention the various moments of work in hotels and co-working spaces, to visit customers and the summits and conferences around the world, which were definitely a great opportunity to exchange ideas, open up and share knowledge. And the pandemic has come to change a lot of it.
But I have also seen and experienced the relocation that has moved non-customer contact functions to low-cost centers in different regions or even different countries.
I can say that all the teams that I had the chance to work with daily during the last 5 years have been globally-connected, remotely working on complex projects. This has given me the ability to work very well and productively in the remote mode.
As a result, I can say that I find myself perfectly comfortable to continue to work remotely if my company realizes that this is the best direction to follow. I feel good about that, and I managed to enhance my productivity, but I know it is not like this for everybody.
If you are looking for methods to improve your ways of working during this pandemic, I have collected during these months some recommendations that had helped me to work better and be more productive. I believe that with some adaptations, they may help you too. Try to implement these things in your routine little by little and think it is the best for you:
Bring the culture of your office into your home. Schedule lunches or happy hours online with your co-workers, or book some virtual games or just-for-fun meetings based on shared interests to create a sense of community. Even if you do not see each other in person, your colleagues are still your colleagues.
Don’t expect normalcy. You and your team may not be performing at the beginning. Each one takes time to adapt. Schedule more frequent meetings and calls until everyone are a little more comfortable.
Less is more. Use some tools that your company is already used to. New procedures should be adopted gradually and only if necessary.
Create a routine and new rituals that help you concentrate. Exercise your concentration by starting for short periods. Start with 40 minutes of deep work and work your way up. And don’t forget to take breaks. You can use the Pomodoro method, for example.
Try to maintain a routine. Nothing much different from what you did before: sleep and wake up time, eating, exercise. On your desk, there may be the same objects you had in your office (including the water bottle, right?).
Take care of yourself and your space. Wear comfortable clothes and try to adapt your home to create the most ergonomic working environment possible.
The future after the pandemic, or some people like to say: the new normal, when it comes to the future workplace, will be a hybrid model, and the remote one will take a substantial proportion.
As many of us have the opportunity to experiment today, the home office is a big change that happened suddenly, but that is here to stay. Companies today have a great opportunity to provide more well-being for employees that can be a really positive thing; at the same time, they increase productivity.
The secret is to find a balance that works well for employers and employees.
A highly engaged and innovative AI Strategist. Passionate about communication, with a broad I.T. Management and AI background.