All that said, there is a big difference between working at home three days a week and every day. I like my colleagues and enjoy chatting with them about stuff. A lot of that stuff isn’t work related, it’s about hearing funny tales, helping them with life’s challenges, hearing about major life events, their plans and ambitions. It’s about being human!
Despite the advances in technology it can still feel slightly forced to attempt these kinds of interactions when remote working. Whereas conversations spark up spontaneously when two or more people are in close proximity, it takes an effort of will to instigate them remotely. It feels wrong to be using ‘company time’ to talk about non-work stuff. And yet there is clear evidence that strong teams produce exceptional results. And what makes a strong team? Bonds that go beyond shared working practices, that’s for sure. So recognising that, I try to make more time to hold regular meetings with all of my direct reports and, you know what?, maybe half of the time we don’t discuss much about the tasks they have to complete this week. We do work on those things and try to unblock blockers, but a lot of the time we’re discussing how each of us is coping, our fears and joys. I think it really helps! Another thing that I and some of my colleagues like to do is to stop work at a specific time and go outside, either for our permitted once-a-day exercise or just to look at something more than five metres away, which helps the eyes and seems to clear the head almost immediately.
Then there’s the working environment. I’m lucky to have a dedicated working space, a decent sized house and a big garden, which gives me the freedom to change my view when I need to and to work comfortably when I need to focus. There’s only my wife and I left in the house now our daughter’s fled the nest so it’s a quiet place with few unwanted distractions. Others are less lucky. Some must cope with far more challenges – young children at home, partners or housemates working in close proximity, no obvious working space and few options for a change of view. Recognising those who face the biggest challenges and offering them flexibility about when and how they work can make a big difference to their productivity and state of mind. Perhaps they are most efficient after putting children to bed or they need to share child-minding time with their partner. If you can be flexible then you’ll probably reap the rewards in terms of work outcomes and long-term commitment to your company.
But are there any upsides to our forced isolation? Definitely! Commuting has become incredibly expensive. Whether you travel by train, tube or motor vehicle, the costs represent a significant chunk of your income. Not only that but most methods of commuting are adding toxicity to the already poor air quality in our major cities and towns. Not having to commute saves me three to four hours each time, greatly reduces my expenditure and, as we’ve seen from the images of NOx emissions above China and the clear waters in Venice, detoxes our environment. Surely this is something we and our businesses should all now embrace. If we’ve proven that remote working can work (and it obviously can for many of us) then let’s make it a longer term commitment.
Saving hours through not commuting means I have much more time to focus on my fitness. Even when I cycle into work, I don’t get as much focused training as I have been able to manage since working from home. I have access to a turbo trainer and some great training software, of which there is plenty of choice, and I’ve seen measurable improvements in my power output and have lost 3kg in weight. Both these improvements make me feel much better in myself and will enable me to take on some exciting challenges when we emerge from our hibernation.
And finally, I must say that I am generally far less tired and therefore more capable of delivering good quality work. Commuting and the cut and thrust of the city are tiring such that by the end of a working week I generally have little energy, which then impinges on the fun I can have at the weekend. Not so now I work from home every day. I get more sleep and my daily existence seems less frenetic even though I’m generally achieving more. My mental and physical health are in a better place and I even remember to smile at my wife!