have always been an advocate for working from home (WFH) for years though I’m an advocate for splitting time between the working from the office and WFH. What is required is therefore a careful analysis of each organisation’s peculiar situation and its resources before implementing the policy.
Long before Zoom or any other video conference application became really popular, not many people thought WFH was feasible. But thanks to Covid-19, change or should I say flexible inertia has been confronted head on and some organisations are beginning to see the light.
About 2 years ago when I and my family were in Atlanta Georgia on vacation for a couple of weeks, our ever accommodating and adorable cousin, a IT Consultant, took up the responsibility of driving us around. Of course we did not need to go out every day but she made sure we hung out at least thrice a week and weekends were a regular. From Mexican restaurants, theme parks, to shopping malls. She was not on leave, on a contract, and had become accustomed to peak periods in demand and would adjust our schedule accordingly to accommodate this.
During the week, she was always with her laptop just in case an issue popped up when we hung out. I recall several times where we had to spend more time than planned at a food court because there was a pending issue she had to resolve. And the remote working model suited her pretty well. She could manage dropping off and picking the kids at school, get some work done, dash for groceries and get some chores done. She could only do all this because she was working remotely. Imagine she had to drive 2 hours every day from Marietta to Emory to sit at a desk to solve the same issues she could resolve at the comfort of her home?
Fast-forward to this month, June 2020. The pandemic for me has just showed us what is to come. I really do feel for people folding their arms and waiting for the “old normal” to return. Every organization operating in a major busy city, whether it is Bengaluru, New York, Boston, Lagos or Manila, particularly one considered an economic bedrock of a country should welcome the idea of remotely working from home. And there are a few reasons why this should become a norm.
One day, a colleague of mine and I were stuck in traffic and we had a board meeting in less than an hour. We had set off ahead of time to accommodate worst case scenario; a deadly traffic. So there we were in traffic, looking at the location where the board meeting will scheduled to hold. It was less than 50 meters away and we had about 50 minutes to catch our breath, talk through the key points, sip a beverage or even get a powernap in the car before the meeting started. 50 minutes to the meeting, just 50 meters away, what could possibly go wrong?
Ladies and gentlemen, I had to get out of the car and walk to avoid being late! I noticed others in skirt suits and laptops bags getting out of their cars as well. Yes, we spend far too much productive time on the road, in traffic or transit. That will surely affect productivity and performance. And more importantly, the health related risks sometime in the future. Before the lockdown, on the average, it is estimated that employees who live on the mainland and work on the Island, spend about 6 hours on the road on a daily basis. That’s a quarter of the day! That’s equivalent to watching the entire final season of Game of thrones!
And with never ending construction, a city like Lagos will continue to witness a steady decline in the quality of life due to dust and pollution, rapidly eroding green cover amongst other problems. There is not a better time to embrace this model.
A number of organisations have been set aback by the results they have been able to either sustain or in some cases improve while working from home during the lockdown. Top executives have witnessed with bewilderment how work was still getting done and timely too despite employees being miles away from the office. There has been a lot of cost savings in the form of less expenses and overheads regularly incurred during business operations including energy consumption and travel expenses.
Some businesses have now realized they did not really require that much space to operate in the first instance. Lean operations in the form of maximizing smaller spaces and getting functions or departments or roles that need not be in the office daily some breather, with more flexible shifts. This may take the form of a week at work and the next week WFH. Even departments like facility management, within their ranks can come up with a more flexible roster depending on the size of the facility among other deciding factors.
WORK LIFE BALANCE
This point will be hugely contested and I can understand why. Those against this third point which is closely related to the first point, would probably say employees need an office for work and life balance. That people will not trade the practice of leaving work physically where they can snap out of work mode as opposed to working from home where they are constantly reminded there is still some work to be done. This argument can be accurate. Some will even argue it is not even healthy.
However, is it possible to manage the separation while WFH? I think so. Some people have created a dedicated work station in their homes secluded from any disturbances and with discipline they have created a separation in their mindset during work hours, carefully planning the day/tasks ahead while maintaining discipline which is imperative. I know some unexpected work tend to rear its ugly head, some around 5:01 pm but think about it this way. What if you were stuck on the 3rd mainland bridge in traffic? That should help with your decision making. Also, switch off email notifications if that would help.
Weekends are no longer enough these days. Getting some extra time during the week will help a great deal. Think of the many activities, like domestic chores, the quick dash to the convenience store, or telling the children a bedtime story because of that extra time in your hands now. All the stuff you can get done between the hours you spend in traffic in comparison to when you shut down your system and you’re in the kitchen making dinner and watching a sitcom on Netflix from your phone is priceless.
On the other side of the spectrum, people against will insist WFH can be a costly exercise for the organization and the employer because of set up costs. Monitoring performance can be a lot harder to ascertain, because a team lead for instance cannot tell who is actually working or sleeping on the couch or an HR manager may find it extremely difficult to initiate staff development initiatives.
There is also the issue of communication problems depending on the area as most can testify during Zoom meetings, when a critical member of the team goes off and leaves the team in a limbo. I have attended a virtual meeting where directors from different countries were present and the accountant designated to present the financials went off and could not log back on for about 20 minutes. It felt like 20 hours. And of course some will say not all jobs can accommodate WFH.
All valid arguments but as I mentioned earlier, WFH should not been seen as a trend or a fad but as a means to operational efficiencies. My suggestion of splitting WFH time with office time should solve majority of the issues highlighted. Companies must look inward and analyse from a cost-benefit analysis viewpoint what works best for them and their people.
The wellbeing of an organisation’s people is a crucial factor in enabling growth and it will do well to consider them during consultations. When employees have clearly articulated KPIs, the least of an HR or team lead’s concerns is whether a colleague is sleeping on the couch or making tik-tok videos. Some employees are not even ready for this concept for several reasons, not yet self-led and therefore need supervision and prodding to get work done, some their home is just not conducive for this concept; take for example, people with young children doing home schooling because of the current situation.
But at the end of the day, a shift towards home working doesn’t mean employees have to work only at home. Often splitting time between home and the workplace is the most productive solution and companies may want the homeworker to attend meetings to keep them fully involved and informed. For some smaller businesses and startups, this could be adopted wholesale to trim waste and save costs. Again, it is all about organisations looking internally and deciding what works best for them as opposed to being rigid and not moving with the times.