This is another post which has been sitting my drafts for a long time but it’s more relevant than ever.
For over 40% (rough estimation) of the worlds working population, work IS a place. And this is not going to change anytime soon – next 5 / 10 years, probably longer. Thoughts?
— Bas van Kaam (@BasvanKaam) February 8, 2018
I was reminded to revisit this post when seeing this tweet from the great Bas van Kaam. I’ll be interested to hear other’s opinions on this.
The Work From Home Paradox
With the advancement of technology, the nature of how many of us do our job is changing. 40 years ago, ordering new equipment was an arduous process which required going to a store and often back ordering something which might take weeks to arrive. Now, we can order pretty much anything and receive it within 2 days.
Where 40 years ago, we may have used pen and paper or a typewriter, today we have a computer, mouse and keyboard. Where we may have used fax machines or landlines with no certainty of getting through to our intended recipient and no way of knowing they are actually there and will respond. Today we have e-mail, instant messaging and mobile phones. For better AND worse everything and everyone are much more accessible and visible.
All of this enables many of us to work from home either full time or at least part of the time. This also enables working from remote sites for those who need to travel for work. My OnePlus 3 smartphone in 2018, is more powerful than standard computers were just a couple of decades ago. We have powerful productivity and communication tools right at our finger tips at all times.
Work From Home has started to become a prerequisite for some top talent. If you wish to aspire to be the best and hire the best, you will need to enable your employees to work from home. That’s just the way it is.
With products like Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, VMware Horizon, Parallels RAS and Software2 AppsAnywhere enterprise customers can securely provide everything their employees need to be successful from a functional standpoint but there is much more to ensuring success when you have employees working from home which we will cover.
I believe the practice of Work From Home, is a paradox. Everybody is different. Not all employees are created equal. There are those who work very well when given a set list of tasks. There are those who are self-starters and work well no matter if any direction is given. There are those who need to stay busy and there are those who avoid work like the plague.
The above quote is credited to Bill Gates. I love this quote. It’s a great idea in principal: Give somebody who is lazy a difficult task and they will find an easy way to do it. I would add to the quote and say, hire smart competent people and if they are lazy then giving them a hard job, this may result in discovering the easiest, most efficient way to do it SUCCESSFULLY. If you hire incompetent people who are lazy you are just getting poor results and frustrating others who have to work with this person.
You’ll probably think, well duh! Why would anybody hire an incompetent person? Well, it does happen and it happens a lot. I bet people reading this have worked with incompetent people.
I’m not trying to insult anybody who may be reading this and thankfully this doesn’t apply to my current workplace.
Onto why this is a paradox. Incompetent workers tend to get exposed pretty quickly in an office environment. Unless you work in the same office as Drew Carey, it’s hard to hide in plain sight. When people work from home, they can often be out of sight, out of mind for management. For these people Work From Home is a paradox because it’s seen as a chance to avoid working when home. The end result is a loss of productivity.
Update: I’m being honest and leaving this in but I have changed my mind. Plenty of places allow people to hide in plain sight. This is less of a concern to me now with enabling remote workers.
This isn’t the only reason it’s a paradox!
If you are a diligent worker. If you put in as many hours as it takes to get the job done, this can also be a paradox for you. From my own perspective, I will put in a lot of overtime working on problems trying to get them resolved. If I have something I’m struggling to resolve, I have a hard time switching off and forgetting about it. It’s like an itch that I can’t help but keep scratching. This is why work from home has been a dangerous paradox for me in the past. I was working from home but I was rarely home and NOT working. My home was just turning into my workplace. I was eating my meals at my desk, putting on podcasts to listen to while working but not actually listening to them because I was so focused on what I was doing. Days could go by without leaving the house. My meals were microwaved. I felt on edge, as though being out of sight meant I needed to show as online all the time and always respond instantly. This was not good for my physical or mental health.
I spent the first 7 years of my career working in an office or traveling for work. I never worked from home. In the past 4 years, I have had two jobs which were 100% work from home. One, which was a great job that I enjoyed very much. I believe I also did pretty well in that job but much of the previous paragraph still applied. The work was satisfying but the impact on my health and personal life was not.
The other 100% work from home job was a trickier. It was a completely different role with a specialty I wasn’t experienced in. I took a significant pay cut because I figured it was different and would be a challenge and that also put doubt in my mind from the beginning.
I had worked from home before, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I did not!
I just got back from a short trip when I started the job. I was sick on my first day but I stuck it through. As the first days went on, the illness got worse to the point I eventually needed to go to urgent care and take some time to re-coup. The problem was, those first few days in a new job are pretty crucial, particularly if you are learning something brand new to you. I was so sick and weak that my retention of the information in training was shot.
I also worked as one of the only remote workers on a team. This presented many challenges. Information wasn’t shared at the same time or possibly at all as it was to those in the office. It made building a rapport and getting in sync with my co-workers very hard. If you don’t know a person, it’s easy to read a nasty tone in an e-mail or IM which isn’t actually there.
In my first work from home role, I had much in common with my co-workers and we all had a similar skillset so it was easier to strike up a rapport when remote. I also met most of my co-workers at the tech conferences we all attended.
I learned, for me to be successful working from home I need to at least be experienced in the role or I need to work on-site for the first few weeks or couple of months.
Where is the Good?
I have learned a lot about what I need to be successful working from home. Although, this post may read as negative, it’s not intended that way. There are certainly challenges but realistically this is something we will all need to adapt to. With green movements incentivizing companies to reduce their carbon footprint by allowing workers to stay home, avoiding driving in and organization’s reducing their brick and mortar investments to reduce their expenditure this has now become a money move and as the saying goes Money talks, bullshit walks.
With time, I believe employees will learn how to be successful whilst working from home and I believe managers will learn how to ensure it’s successful too.