Back in the old days (well, pre-March 2020, which frankly feels like a long time ago) working from home carried a stigma. There was a sense that if you were “working from home” it wasn’t really working. You were probably hanging out in your pyjamas, watching Philip and Holly, waiting for parcels to be delivered and doing the washing. “Working from Home” carried with it air quotes and a sardonically raised eyebrow, a tone of voice that said ‘yeah, of course you are’ and a knowing wink. If you asked to work from home there must be a reason for it, it needed to be justified and it’s likely there was some suspicion attached to it.
Of course, in March the status quo changed overnight and much of the workforce were catapulted into working from home because they had to be. This meant hastily created ‘offices’ on kitchen tables, sofas and beds for many people. It meant worry about health and job security. It meant that a way of doing things that was previously stigmatised was now business as usual. And while we’ve been working like that for months now I think that the stigma remains and is driving some unsustainable behaviour.
Here are the unconscious rules that many of your team are working to right now:
I need to be available all the time or people will think I’m skiving
I can prove my worth and therefore cerate security by being available
I cannot say no
I must be available and ready at all times to jump onto Teams/Zoom/Slack/Hangouts….
Here are the rhythms that people are working to:
I start work at 8 and slog through until 6. There is no time for a break or lunch
My laptop stays open on the kitchen table so even after I’ve ‘finished’ work I’m still available and can be drawn back in
There is no commute so my transition from bed to work is short and sharp
There are no gaps in the day – meetings run from one hour to the next
There is no space for catching up with work colleagues informally
Work leaks into the weekend, it’s difficult to find time to recharge
No one reading this can possibly think this is sustainable, many people reading this will be recognising their own ways of working and many employers and managers will be thinking that they haven’t asked anyone to work like that so it’s not their responsibility. You’re right, you didn’t set out those rules or rhythms – people have created them for themselves, driven by anxiety about their job and a legacy of guilt about working from home. What you can do is create new ways of working that fit your culture, that create a home working situation where your people are thriving and productive, operating from a place of resourcefulness not survival.
Doing it Differently
Encouraging transitions from home to work in the morning – walk, run, cycle before you go to your desk
Recreating the rituals that you had for finishing the day when you were in the office. Say goodnight to your colleagues via Slack or whatever, pack up your things, shut down your laptop and put it away or close the door of your office
Building in an evening ‘commute’
Using a focus timer (look them up in your app store) to work well in short sprints
Using your Ultradian Rhythms for greater productivity and taking breaks
Being old fashioned and having some conversations on the phone not over video
Walking while you talk to people
Building in some social time throughout the week. Encourage people to have lunch together – create a virtual staff room or kitchen where people can gather just like they used to
Setting meeting times as 45 minutes instead of an hour. Or set it for an hour but only ‘work’ for 45 minutes and allow some time to chat before and after
We are not going back to our old office life any time soon so we must find ways of working that are sustainable, productive, social and fitting for the culture of your business.