During these extraordinary times, if you’re lucky enough to have a job, chances are you’re working from home. For some this is living the leisure-wear dream and, for others, not so much. But there’s one thing for sure, the great working from home experiment is well and truly on and the results are happening in real time.
Up there with the four day work week and basic universal income, working from home has always been one of those abstract subjects whenever ‘what the future of work will look like’ is discussed. But like many things, COVID 19 has brought working from home out of the realms of abstract future possibility and into stark daily reality.
Firstly, let me say I don’t think working from home is the perfect solution for everybody or every employer. The same could be (and has been) said for working in an office, but what we have at this rare moment in time is the perfect opportunity to A / B test working onsite with working remotely.
So is working from home really working? And what are the opportunities open to us once things ‘return to normal’?
In the interests of transparency I would like to confess I’ve run my agency from home for over 5 years and, for me, it has provided distinct productivity and business advantages. I suspect many businesses may currently be seeing some of these advantages coming into focus for themselves.
Certain people and personality types prefer working from home, get more work done and to a higher standard. Working in the creative industries, I know that most creative people are least inspired when cooped up in the office and most inspired when relaxed and comfortable. But this doesn’t just apply to creatives, as many office introverts, lovers of quiet spaces and those easily distracted by office antics will testify.
I’m sure those in managerial positions will by now have figured out who in their teams work better at home and who does not. The question they and their companies should now be asking themselves is, what advantage will bring those happier and more productive at home back into the office provide when this is all over?
Obviously not all jobs can be done at home, and not everyone wants to work from home either. But for those who can and do prefer working from home and do it well, what is there to gain from bringing them back into the office?
A better way to look at this is to flip the question and look at what there is to lose. Overall job satisfaction, work quality and productivity gains would be the obvious first things to go. This could eventually lead to a good employee looking for work elsewhere and, as we know, recruitment is one of the biggest drains on the bottom line.You know what else is expensive? The physical area people take up in an office that companies pay rent on, along with the extra resources they use (power, internet, heating, etc.). In a post pandemic world where every cent is going to count, the potential for companies to save whilst making their staff happier is an obvious win-win.
If a company could reduce its overall office expenses whilst keeping the same amount of staff and potentially increase productivity, why wouldn’t they? The economic sense it makes is real, we just haven’t been able to see it as clearly until now. These are legitimate savings that could be passed onto clients making for a more competitive business, or simply absorbed for more profit, or maybe even a staff pay increase.
Then there is the bigger picture. More people working at home means less people traveling to the office which leads to less pollution and a smaller carbon footprint. Not to mention less congested CBDs and cities plus less people burnt out by their ever increasing commute times. In fact, with less traffic, commute times would reduce overall.
Working from home also does away with the traditional concept of 9-to-5 and opens up more flexible work options. This can be far more family friendly and taps into those who are more productive at night. Families could reduce their childcare costs whilst increasing time spent with the family. Food and petrol costs reduce, and potentially money spent on clothes too. The difference between the price of a tracksuit vs. an Armani suit is remarkable.
With all these benefits it makes you wonder why companies and employers haven’t encouraged working from home in the past. Some companies, like mine, have – but most, as pointed out in the Microsoft white-paper, Work without Walls, “assume employees who work remotely and take advantage of the policy are not really working. This is because of the loss of control. Employers lose direct oversight and cannot witness productivity firsthand.”
That sounds like a management, not employee, problem to me. If you need to stand over your staff to ‘witness their productivity’, then chances are you don’t establish clear goals, communicate effectively or regularly measure and celebrate success. I hate to break it to you, but there are plenty of ways for people to waste time in the office too. So what you are witnessing at work might not be productivity, it might just be a bunch of people in an office.
The current pandemic has been world changing, but that doesn’t mean it needs be entirely negative. What we have before us is the time and opportunity to sit back and observe how we have done things in the past and how we could do things better moving forward.
Working from home is one such opportunity, and those companies clever enough to harness it will be the ones who come out of the other side of this crisis better for it.