Work From Home or Office?

Are you thinking about getting out of home and going to your office?

Office, a place that has become a big part of the existence of office goers.

And, there is a reason what that is.

Because people forge friendships at work. And, many of us even find life partners there.

Let’s think about why this happens?

One big reason!

Why Office Is an Important Piece of Life or Why We Are Not Ready to Give It Up Yet

Because human bonding happens when people spend time together and exchange thoughts. It happens when one person makes another feel loved, cared for, and valued, and also when we find a common reason to bond and at times argue over.

Most office-goers spend at least 1/3rd of their waking time at work. In many cases, we spend equal or more with some of our colleagues than we do with our families. So it is natural to build bonds there.

That also happens in school and college by the way, because of the same kind of dynamics.

Because most of us spend so much time at work, offices are no longer the places where we go to work, they have become places where we work, and fulfill our inborn need to connect.

They have become part of our social fabric.

And this change has been centuries in making. In the Middle Ages, there was chancery. It continued through renaissance when merchants used to work out of spaces designated for trade through the 18th century when the first version of modern office came to be. Even then the workplace has not taken over social connections outside. And, the generations before us spent time socializing and cultivating lifelong bonds. 

The situation continued to evolve with workplace innovations like ‘speaking tubes’ and ‘action offices or cubicles’. That made the workforce more efficient. Co-location was an advantage because it allowed smooth communication and speedy decision making.

No Change Despite Reasons and Tools Being There

Because sitting and working out of an office became the norm, no one questioned it despite the cost of co-location being higher than the value we got out of it.

Not many companies experimented with a ‘no-office’ workplace – even when the reasons that made offices so attractive – like the ease of communication and collaboration – no longer needed one to be in an office.

I have seen it first hand at global companies, for example, when working out of LinkedIn offices, it is rare for people to have conversations with a physical being, people are in meeting rooms all the time talking to screen with a person on the other side. And each conversation is as real as it gets.

The change was not happening because not many companies were taking the lead, especially the larger ones, the kind that is written about.

Every big change needs a champion. There were champions like a billion-dollar global company like Automattic (makers of WordPress) for remote work, and it was slowly being accepted as an efficient way to work. But we were still years away from having a critical mass of champions, that could have pushed big players adopting it wholesale.

The Situation That Forced Sweeping Change

Then suddenly came an external force that made many employers think that they may have to try this weird thing called remote work. They were willing to do it with the understanding that it is a sub-par way of working and they’ll suffer productivity loss for some time, and then will get back to their old efficient ways. Such companies and also the ones believing in the power of remote work were not ready when shit hit the fan. All were caught off guard and didn’t have time to prepare for a transition.

This lack of preparedness caused some stress, created panic even, more so because many companies were losing business and the entire line of command was under pressure. Almost no one had a clue about how to make it work.

Employees working for these companies were no different. They were stressed because of the crisis unfolding in front of all of us and because of new tech that was being thrown at them. And no less because they had to find a quiet corner at home where they and their home will look presentable to their colleagues. It was sort of a forced invasion of their privacy.

Coming to Terms With Change and Adapting

This transition is like any major transition in life, that can happen overnight but we always take time to adapt. We should not expect to become God of remote work on day 1, even during week 1 or week 4 of this new style of work. It takes effort, time, and learning new ways. Similar to how we learned to sit in the office for 8 hours when we first started working. That’s not normal but we learned that and accepted boredom, monotony, and unnatural behavior as ‘new’ normal. In the same way, it is not natural to stare at a screen at home or at work, trying to work.

To make it work we need to give it a real shot. And, weigh what work from home gets us like – saved time and creative energy that goes in commuting and money saved on travel and food. And, even better, getting home-cooked food.

How Business Approach Work From Home

You are also right it is not for companies that want to replicate rules of physical office when working from homes. In those situations work from home may feel worse than working at an office.

Such companies are the majority. They are not ready for this, because they need co-location to get a sense of control. Neither their leaders nor their teams are ready. These companies are still forcing a lot of meetings like in the office, and they continue to interrupt each other through calls, messages, and chat. They are ones practicing soft surveillance.

They are not in a hopeless situation but it is tough to change their mindset.

There are companies that are pro work from home because they know it is efficient. They research and recommend the right gear and lighting and even offer to install or recommend installers. They guide employees on how to create a work-from-home sanctuary. They prepare well-written notes as Jeff Bezos does at Amazon. Their culture is such that their employees don’t waste the time of their colleagues by sharing info and offering feedback in bits and pieces. Their communication is well thought and empathetic, with respect for time, their own, and everyone else’s.

Even better when companies move to total asynchronous communication. When there are fewer meetings, and no meeting is scheduled with a pre-written agenda. Where there is interdependence and you feel comfortable asking your peers and boss for help.

How to Make Work-From-Home Work

To make work-from-home work trust is paramount and taking ownership and responsibility is crucial. To make it work, over-communicate, and manage expectations, especially in the beginning.

So over-communicate in early days so that your boss or colleague does not have to wait on getting info from you to move forward. Don’t react when it comes to communication but preempt and act early. Always volunteer to tell when you are going to send something the other person has asked for.   

And, agree it is not everyone. It is for those who are responsible, who can manage themselves well. And it is a great opportunity for those who possess these qualities. Because the world has changed and sooner than we think work from home will become a real thing for an ever-growing number of workforce.

Working from home is a personal choice and it may not be everyone – because of temperament or because a person is not ready yet or maybe because they are in a job where their employer does not get it.

So choose, but choose wisely, after looking at in a balanced way. 

Work from home may not be much different from the lockdown we are experiencing. But it may feel different because of the newness of it, the surroundings, news, and it is forced on most of us.

And if you work better at ‘work’ then no worry in a couple of months there will be ample opportunity to sit in a cubicle and work but till then try to become good at this ‘remote work’ thing which will become a norm in a no-to-far-off future.

If you think work from home is your thing then you’ll find this work from home cheatsheet useful.

Not sure if you reach this piece I wrote earlier.

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