It only took a month or two into this global pandemic before we started hearing about Fortune 500 companies closing large offices across the country as they discovered that they could not just survive but thrive with a home office workforce. Over half a year later, we are starting to see the pluses and minuses of this necessary move here in our own company and those in our community.
Since it’s not a black and white scenario, I thought it might be useful to go over the pluses and minuses to stimulate some thought, and perhaps it might apply to you and your work environment. The following points are in no particular order:
While I enjoy driving, with 25 minutes each way, I get my daily fill. I also enjoy some time to listen to a podcast or ride in silence. Also, I like to think that I have my second best ideas while driving. I know what you’re thinking, “With pros like that, what could be the cons?!”
I live out in West County, so I drive directly into the sun. Both ways. On top of that, my car runs on fossil fuels, which is bad for both my wallet and the environment. On top of it all, it’s a lot of time lost, and there is a calculated risk of injury or even death. Now that I’ve written it down, commuting looks terrible.
As it turns out, a lot of my friends are people. That is, people I work with! Within a few weeks, I was feeling the effects of not spending any time around them. Thankfully we have video chat technology that has really helped to narrow the gap to real human interaction. However, not everyone is comfortable with being in front of a camera, so it’s a mixed bag whether or not you’ll get to look someone in the eyes during your workday.
Eating together is an enriching experience. Gathering with co-workers for some grub while engaging in conversation is more significant than the sum of its parts. Additionally, it’s a welcome mid-day break and is often the spark for conversations that lead to collaborations later in the day.
Eating at home also has its advantages. I often have a chance to eat with my wife and kids, which is a huge bonus. Food options are even greater though I’m just as likely to choose Taco Bell while at home as I am working downtown. For others, it might be a painful reminder that they are alone in their home.
When we onboard a new hire, it isn’t easy to get to know them when working from a home office. This is less than ideal for my co-workers and I, but it must be so much worse for the employee who is just getting their feet under them.
I didn’t expect that communicating with colleagues could become more difficult, but it often is the case. While I’ve been chatting with some co-workers for decades, others have no idea how to understand my sense of humor or read my tone in text form. Likewise, I can’t make a good read of them with their style of writing. Others do not engage in instant messaging and are not responsive to their email in the same way I am. This can be a pain point when working from home. In the office, I select the communication medium based on my familiarity with the individual. For instance, if I’m asking for help from someone I do not speak with very often, I usually make it a point to stop by their desk, so I don’t come off as demanding or cold in an email.
Since making that quick change to a home office, some concession in comfort and practicality had to be made. I’m writing this article on a fifteen-inch screen in the living room, seated in a straight-back wooden chair, but I’m also with my family wearing a very comfortable hoodie listening to some tunes. Back at the office, I’ve got an ergonomic chair, a standing desk, and snacks for days.
I’ve already touched on the time saved by not driving into work. There are also fewer opportunities for conversations at the coffee machine, while missed, are also a loss of time. I’ve also discussed the virtues of human interaction in the workplace, but I’d be remiss to mention the time saved by not being interrupted. I’m as guilty as the next person for this. When someone stops to talk or thinks of something they need to be done at the spur of the moment, it can be challenging to get back in the flow of what you were doing.
Working from home allows many of us to have more flexibility in our schedules. This can be a great convenience, but it can also work against us. Some may find they are working later hours or working more hours beyond the required 40 simply because they don’t think of “leaving work” in the traditional sense. Likewise, managers send emails and other communications later into the evening, which blur the lines of what is expected from employees. (For the record, this employee does not have this problem with their boss!)
A benefit that cannot be overstated for the employer is that now they can determine which positions are able to work remotely, which works best as a hybrid of home and office, and which need to be back in the office full time if and when that time comes. Businesses are also changing the way they hire, as employees can potentially live anywhere to fill certain positions. One of our long-time employees relocated to a different state a few years ago, and he was able to maintain the same high level of support we grew to love. This year it’s been a learning experience for the other positions in our company, and we, like so many others, will continue to evaluate the pros and cons of this new normal to shape our future.
More on the topic: https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/10/working-from-home-misery.html