The new normal, hybrid, fusion, flexible or whatever you want to call the change in working conditions we are starting a new phase where employees have worked at home for 15 months and employers have worked at home for 15 months too. Nothing has broke and we still are productive however are we all happy?
I have worked one day at home for 13 years and always a Thursday. I am incredibly fortunate I could (all the systems are online) and was allowed too however it wasn’t easy. Concerns were initially raised by management (not by my direct line manager who was brill) about output, contact and even quality of work however it was the comments in the office that made me paranoid and probably made me over work on my WAH (work at home) day (how was your day off? did you get the house work done etc). I loved my one day at home, practically no travel which was a blessing and made for a more relaxed morning without the extra pressure of breakfast club drops offs, kids having clothes on them (the right way) and kids being fed (they didn’t like the cereal at breakfast club so insisted on eating in the house!). Basically it was like Challenge Aneeka except with a middle aged bald northern irish man screaming at kids.
At that time (and with younger kids) it felt like my work life balance was good. I had 4 days in the office which i enjoyed and was prioritised for meetings and one day at home which I used for paperwork or tasks that I felt needed more concentration. I would find that the output of few hours of intense home work would match a day as I had minimal distractions and felt more at ease. On reflection my setup was not great as I used the kitchen table so at the end of the day when I logged off I was still in my kitchen so disconnecting was hard.
It always made me laugh when people asked can I call you at home? It’s a weird one as I am at work so why couldn’t they call me? Did they expect me to be busy at ASDA or having a bath? My answer was always ‘my calendar is up-to-date so please find a slot or ping me’ via (in chronological order) MSN Messenger, Skye, Skype for business, Collaborate Original, Collaborate Ultra and now Teams. Attending blended meetings (home and office based staff) was also fun but usually difficult due to poor room acoustics, poor hardware setups, the chair whisperers (like horse whisperers but they are sitting in a chair and whispering) and being unable to gauge the dynamic and feeling in the room (body language which in some meeting is louder than what has been talked about).
After 16 months WAH, 5 days a week and omitting the phases of Mummy and Daddy day care and the School of Dad (Mummy is a key worker so Dad bought some elbow patches and foolishly took on homeschooling) my opinion of WAH has changed. We converted the spare room into an office aka desk, chair, dead plant and keyboard full of crumbs. I have a better desk setup with another screen and minimal distractions (mobile is not allowed in the office whilst I am working), I pop downstairs once an hour for a few mins to stretch legs and contemplate eating (hanger issues) and I usually run at lunch to clear my head. I have enjoyed the freedom of WAH and the trust to do so however I miss people.
When I say people I mean colleagues in the office who invite me out for a bun on Friday, the people at the top of the Royal Mile standing in the middle of the road getting a photo taken with an obvs death wish (always makes me laugh when the bus driver is beeping at them to get off the road) and the friends in the office who make me laugh. Now we are transitioning back to normality I am not sure I still want to work at home all the time. Maybe it’s due to the legal limitations over the past many months and the acceptance that we stay calm and get on with it! Coupled with the lack of socialising makes me think is my change on WAH based on the social aspect or the practical work aspect. Does someone who doesn’t enjoy socialising want to come back into an office? Is the office nice? Are the people nice? Is the office in a nice locale (the picture is the view from my desk….I know!) The list can go on.
One practical aspect we may overlook is work station setup and longer term impact to health. My spare bedroom is no palace ballroom so does that mean the risk is on me to ensure the desk setup is ok? Do I need to supply my own hardware? What about the lights? If I need a stand up desk where does it go? All these factors can contribute to health so is it easier and safer commuting into the office? plus who does a home assessment (or do I need to become savvy with more compliance!!).
Hybrid working may be employers way of managing a backlash against an immediate return to the office however I wonder in Edinburgh how many people have the space to accommodate it especially if 2 people are working from home in the same house. I am lucky we have the space as we don’t live in auld reekie but the boom in housing prices (eye watering increases) and the migration to the “country’ aka outside the city is noticeable in East Lothian which makes me sceptical about longer term home based working simply due to space, setup along with social and practical aspects.
I plan to work in the office a few days and at home at least 2 days a week. It will allow me to maintain my work life balance and get me out of the house (to buy overpriced coffee and get annoyed by people encroaching in my personal space). I have started to notice the articles regarding employees working on the beach in amazing locations but when I go to the beach I don’t want to work, I want to relax 🙂
The major change is recognition from employers that WAH is possible (for some). Its funny that the working practises we adopt are ancient however the technology we strive to support is new and challenges the old way of working. Maybe this will happen now for WAH and broader working patterns, why do we need everyone to be physically located in a central location at a certain time to support digital products, seems kinda daft.