Is a work-from-home policy (still) productive?

Indefinite. Or even permanent. These are words managers are saying to their employees about working from home.

Over the past months spent in lockdown or adjusting to the new normal we had been seeing changes creeping into our everyday lives. Let me start from the beginning…

Before COVID 19 I enjoyed working from home. I had a schedule – 3 days of the week I would be working in my living room office, and the other 2 days I will go to the “real” office. I am very happy and to be honest lucky that during the lockdown I was able to stay home, be safe and at the same time I was (still am) productive. Myself and my company had started our digital transformation long ago. The pandemic has simply accelerated the process, forcing a lot of organizations to grapple with a challenge and facing a change – where hybrid work becomes the new normal.

But what does the new normal mean?

For me, personally it is not work-from-home policy. I say this because the pandemic has not only forced people to provide their own workspaces, but has also taken over their homes.

I am lucky to have a comfortable apartment which I can use as my workspace. But a lot of my friends, who are married and have little children are struggling. Long story short – they can’t do their work from their homes, not while schools and kindergarten are closed. And for those workers who are struggling to do their jobs from home, there are potential downsides. But are they bad workers? No, I can definitely say that they are not. It is just that they are as well parents who do not have an extra “office” in their homes.

I am well aware that when the pandemic hit, companies have very limited choices in order to protect their employees (keep them safe) and at the same time to keep the business flowing in challenging times.

But, even 5 months after the first lockdown, some managers are still “assuming” that people’s private spaces are free for use, ignoring the facts that people’s private space are just that – private.

Many employees struggle, but it’s not an inability to bring creativity. No matter how many motivation blogs or tips they read, it is hard to motivate themselves if they are stuck in one room (with their kids, who want to play and ask for an attention) day in and day out.

Speaking to my friends, I have concluded that it is easy to feel like you have disappeared from the heart of the company. Why do they say that? It’s simple – because they are missing out on the casual chats, team meetings in person and the important decisions. Big decisions are now made in living rooms, kitchens or backyards.

How can managers respond?

Managers should be creative in these challenging times. Let me give you an example from a small organization in my country (Macedonia).

It is about an organization with 27 employees. After the lockdown situation had ended the manager sent a survey to their team asking them what scenario will be the best one for them. 12 of them answered that they want to get back to normal office working, so the manager reconstructed the office space according to corona measures and divided them into two teams of 6. At the end of the month, they were tested for infection in private hospitals, paid by the company. In order not to exclude the other 15 employees who decided to stay home and work from there, the managers is having outdoor team meetings (in a park area) each Monday and each Wednesday afternoon, where they can participate in physical outdoor team building activities. At the beginning the employees were very sceptical about the Wednesday afternoons but now, if you ask them, they are looking forward to it. Their response to these outdoor team meetings and team building activities is simple ”The creativity part is happening in those hours. Everything else is just making that creativity (ideas) a reality”.

Probably lot of you while reading this article will say we ask a lot from managers. I will say that this goes another way around. Working from home can make people more productive, but during a pandemic can have a totally different outcome. Managers should have calculated that. It is simple – working from home will work best if it someone’s preferred option.

What’s normal for you?

But let’s get back to my main point. As I said, for me, personally the new normal is not (and should not be) a mandatory work-from-home policy. It should be work from anywhere (WFA).

Instead of further imprisoning people in their homes, remote working should lead us to a “space” where we are personally most productive. It may be our homes – but it may be a restaurant, park area, weekend house, a hotel, a beach. The main point for me in remote working is to have flexibility. Flexibility doesn’t mean that workers will change everything. It means that they can change things when they want.

But in this flexible situation, managers should have a complete trust in their employees. In fact, they should be sure that an employee is accountable for what he/she is doing, and that they care about the company. They will do what needs to be done and it doesn’t matter if it is from the office, from the living room or from the closest restaurant.

I will always give ITSM Zone as an example of flexibility. A lot of you will say that maybe I am not objective, since I am working there but trust me – flexibility and trust are our biggest strengths. Our team is not located in one office, or in one city or even In one country. During the lockdown we managed to accomplished a lot of great things – partnerships, campaigns, team buildings, meetings that will bring smile on your face and even campaigns that will help other organizations cope with the challenge.

Having this in mind and returning back to all of our productivity, a couple of weeks ago I decided to try working from anywhere. To be more precise I am trying to change my daily routine – change the scenery. Most of the time I am still working from home, but 2 or 3 hours of some working days I am trying to work from a café, park area or even my mother’s office. I noticed that this change of scenery is bringing me creativity and motivation.

Working from Anywhere – get started

For those who have never tried working from anywhere (WFA) this situation can be challenging at the beginning. I have some tips that can help you:

  1. Stay online, always, anywhere

Staying connected with Wi-Fi is a big challenge when working remotely. What I notice is that even places that have Wi-Fi sometimes have very bad service. So in order not to have this kind of problem, my tip is to connect your computer to your phone via a personal hotspot. Two months ago I changed my mobile service provider in order to boost my internet connection. It has been a reasonable cost and a great resource.

  1. Make a schedule – Plan out

A working plan or a schedule is critical to home working and even more to working from anywhere. Spending time figuring out what you’ll do today can take away from actually doing those things. There are lots of tools to help you organize your work and keep on track with the team schedule, goals and tasks for the following day or week. Our favourite ones at ITSM Zone are Google Calendar and Trello. Meetings, conferences, webinars, course production deadlines, deadlines in general, clever/not so much clever ideas etc. – everything is written down so everyone can see it. Besides that, each of us has a personal calendar. For this purpose, I am using Google Calendar. But as I have written in my previous blog, the old school approach is working better for me. On Sundays, when I am drinking my morning coffee, I am writing down my weekly tasks on a piece of paper.

  1. Be disciplined

Making a plan/schedule is not enough. The number one issue most people have when working remotely is that they are not disciplined when it comes to their schedule. If is not possible for you to focus on the work from home, or from the park then you should change your space. Change a room, outdoor place, take a break…whatever you think will get back to you on track. But never leave the work for tomorrow. As my director is saying “If you have a creativity block and you need a break to just stare at white walls, just take it, without questions asked. You need time to think and to digest new ideas”.

  1. Become more social

When you are working from home for more than 6 months, and on top of that during pandemic I am more than sure that a lot of us feel isolated and lonely. So that’s why flexibility means a lot. Take advantage of your flexible schedule during the day. Work at least one day per week outside of your home. Make plans after work when you’re feeling isolated. Keep in touch with your friends, family and colleagues. For the record, I support all the social distancing measures we’ve put in place to protect our health care system, but our mental health as a society in general is important as well.

  1. Feedback

Working remotely can be a challenge. But if your manager gave you the opportunity that means that he/she trusts you. Work on that trust. Always look for feedback, share ideas, ask questions…Keep the (office) spirit!

And do not forget, WFA literally means anywhere, including the very office we would normally go from Monday to Friday before the pandemic scenario – maybe that will feel like a change of scene!

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