Anyone who tells you that they know what the future of work looks like is lying!
This blog is particularly focussed on those businesses, or parts of businesses, which are office based. There are of course plenty of people who do not have the opportunity to work from home for whom this debate is not even a discussion.
If you had asked people 2 years ago if they would be working from home within 12 months, the answer would have been a resounding “no”.
I have spent the last 25 years of my career helping employers to think about the options for allowing people to work from home and in 99% of cases, the answer was “we just can’t make it work”.
Now, just to put my cards on the table here: I started DOHR in 2007 and worked from home. I hired my first employees in April 2011 and until 2014, we only worked from home. Once every two weeks the team would meet around my dining room table, but the rest of the time, they worked from home. Laptops, a hosted server and VOIP phones meant we were seamless.
I also have a husband who works for a large multi-national and he has worked from home for the past 21 years. There is an office in the UK, but he is rarely there and if he was in the office (pre covid), it was more likely to be one in the US than one in the UK. I guess he was the one who showed me that working from home could work.
So why did I get an office in 2014? It wasn’t to use every day and it wasn’t a big office, but it was to collaborate, to store products (I had developed our HR in a Box by that stage), to print professionally and to enable the team to work together, even if I was on holiday. Up until Mid 2020, I still had employees on home worker contracts. Today, we have office-based contracts, but with the ability to work from home.
The first is recruitment – We are humans, we are trained to pick up on body language; only being able to see up someone’s nose on a zoom link which keeps cutting in and out is not the best way to interview them. While their messy bed with yesterday’s underwear says a lot about the person, it isn’t the most effective way to interview. Even if you start the process online, there is a huge amount of value to bringing them into the office, enabling them to do the journey, seeing the environment, feeling the culture of the business and meeting the team.
There have been a significant number of ‘false starts’ with people who have been recruited without being met face to face. Multiple Interviews and a probation period are essential!
My son is 20 and doing an internship this summer. He has been offered the opportunity to work from home, work in the office or a mixture of the two. He has been told that they no longer have enough desks in the department for everyone, so he may need to hot desk. He doesn’t care, he just wants to learn, listen, absorb, work with colleagues, and experience a ‘normal’ working life.
Training and development are essential elements in career and personal growth. I’ve had work experience students who don’t even know how to answer the phone. Being able to listen to how others work with clients, how people interact with each other, being able to sit in on meetings, ask a colleague to check an email, to build strong and trusted relationships are what makes people successful in companies. Without the opportunity to work together, the opportunity for informal learning is lost.
The workplace isn’t just somewhere you go to work. For my brother and sister-in-law, and many like them, it was where they met. Without returning to the office, many working singles will also be missing out on a very important element of their social life.
For many people, being able to work from home has enabled them to achieve better work life balance. For some, this has been by cutting down the commute time, for others, it has been getting a good walk in during their lunch hour and for others it has been the ability to be at home when the kids get back from school.
For others, the solitude of working from home has been unbearable. Perhaps due to the lack of human contact, or the lack of proper work space; these people are desperate to get back to the office and to their normal routines.
So, as this is the last of our Elephant in the Room series, where is this elephant?
Hybrid working and / or working from home and / or working from the office can present employers and staff with multiple of the elephants we have already discussed. Here are some examples which we have come across when advising clients
- Younger staff who are not vaccinated wanting to be in the office.
- Younger employees who are living in flat shares or bedsits not having the space to work from home
- Older staff who may have health issues not wanting to be working among others.
- Mental health
- The anxiety of travelling to work on public transport
- The seclusion of working from home and not having any contact with others
- The loss of routine and structure
- The merging of work and home life
- Domestic violence
- For some, work is their safe space and being at home is exposing them to the risks of domestic violence or abuse
- Sexual harassment
- If someone is working from home, they are less likely to be sexually harassed by a colleague.
- However, if they are subjected to sexual harassment, then it is much harder for other colleagues or management to see what is going on and take the necessary actions
- As with sexual harassment, it is less likely that someone will be bullied when the team are not physically together.
- However, a bully is able to operate on social media, Teams, Slack or on other communication channels with less risk of being detected.
- It is much harder for a victim of bullying to come forward if they have no witnesses. It is reliant on them to raise concerns to a line manager and part of being bullied is intimidation and fear, making it less likely the manager will be aware of a problem, until the situation explodes.
- We started this series with issues around smell. According to our LinkedIn Poll, the biggest elephant in the room was body odour. Those people with a body odour problem may be more comfortable working from home as they are usually quite self-conscious. By extension, it is also probably more comfortable for team members not to have a colleague smelling of BO.
- Drugs and alcohol
- If an employee has a drug or alcohol problem, it is much harder for the business to identify and manage if that employee is working from home.
- It is harder to say you smell of weed or you smell of alcohol, if you are not physically present.
- If someone is behaving in a strange way, you may put it down to lack of training or incompetence because you are missing a number of vital cues.
With all our Elephants, company culture and communication are key.
Whether people are working from home or in the office, line managers and business owners must manage their staff effectively; not only to ensure the business thrives, but to ensure that staff are appropriately supported, nurtured and valued, so that they make a positive contribution to company success and are not just along for the ride.