There used to be a stigma about working from home. The story always starts with sleeping in, working in pyjamas and binge watching Netflix. There was an air of unprofessionalism to it all. Companies had policies against it because it was so egregious. There was a specific type of job that was always better suited to this type of work — creatives, coders, writers, artists. That’s it. The rest of us needed to be in the office because, well, just because. If this pandemic has shown us anything it is that being productive from home is a necessity and we were completely unprepared for any of it — well, most of us anyway.
Working from home is not easy. I’ve done it for 9 of my working years and it takes a very different mentality than working from the office. It takes a strict adherence to routine in order to work and most of us don’t have that in us. The routine isn’t just about waking up and getting to the office, that’s just our autopilot guiding us. We know that if we don’t at least get to work then we don’t get paid. The routine for working from home is completely different and requires a discipline muscle that does not exist in most of us today. Waking up and getting to work, at home or at the office, is not the problem. It’s what happens during working hours where a specific muscle needs to be flexed and people that work from home have it.
Working from home has always been seen as a privilege — even today during a pandemic there are many service and front line workers that don’t have the luxury of working from home. It is a unique segment brought on by the way we work and the tools we have at our disposal. Being able to work from home is because of how work has evolved. Working from home 20 years ago meant you ran a daycare in your living room, today it could mean you run a multi-million dollar digital business. The only difference is that we are living in the most connected and bandwidth-rich time in our history — and it will only get more so.
Yet, despite the fact we all live on tools designed for remote work (Google Drive, Hangouts/Zoom, Slack and email) all day everyday, we do it from the office, messaging coworkers instead of talking to them. These tools were designed for remote work and remote collaboration but we’ve been using them wrong this entire time. We’ve been remote workers hiding in the offices around the world and we didn’t even know it.
The stigma is what is blocking us. That fact that you can be productive at home has been ignored. There is very little training when it comes to how to work from home and make sure we all balance life outside of work. The digital tools we use don’t come with instructions on how — and more importantly, when — we should all use them. We are handed an email address, a Slack account and told to communicate with each other. Some companies aren’t even that clear and have multiple messaging services that they use. This just creates confusion and a loss of productivity. The lack of teaching on how and when to use these tools has made them overflow with internally company flotsam. This is the problem that needs to be solved.
When you work from home you see the gaps in most companies that allow it. If you work for a company that allows you to work from home — we see a lot of people “allowed” to work from home 1-2 days per week — it is most likely seen as a perk. Make no mistake, if the only support WFH employees get are the same tools they have in the office, without training or tools, this is not a perk. It is less stressful and there is less scrutiny working from an office. It is EASIER to work from the office. Period.
It comes down to a mind shift inside the company. If work from home is going to be something that employees do, then they need the tools, training and support to do so. Companies must take the needs of the WFH employee as seriously as they do those that work from the offices. They are cheaper (no snacks, no infrastructure costs, etc.), have a higher quality of life (when supported), more dedication to the company and can be more productive if support properly.
The future of work is not all at home. It can’t be for everyone all the time for obvious reasons. Humans are social beings mostly. The day is divided between working hours and personal time and this is the largest challenge that lands on WFH employees. Dividing the day is a crucial skill. Most people new to this world end up feeling tired and burdened and work more hours or extend their work into their personal time. Inexperienced managers or executives who are not well versed in how this works put added pressure on employees and themselves. They feel that by adding additional reporting processes or check up meetings they will be able to keep tabs on employees. The right combination of faith in their hiring process, confidence in proven employees, the right tools/training and trust that the work will get done as a result are table stakes. The difference is in the mindset of the employers today. Working from home is not a perk anymore to be looked at as a day off. It needs to be harmonized with the rest of the business and institutionalized at the top.
Only when this shift in mindset happens will we get to a point where there is no differentiation between working from home and just plain work.