First of all, kudos to all the companies who were able to quickly pivot and institute an immediate work-from-home protocol in response to the virus-that-shall-not-be-named. The radio side of our company here made it so our on-air talent could broadcast from their homes. How cool is that?!
I’m super interested to see how/if this will change how companies allow their people to work. Will more companies realize they can reduce their real estate footprint and make remote work a ‘thing?’ Will some businesses decide that they’ll never consider making this a permanent option? I can’t wait to find out, but I think at the end of the day the current situation has to be a massive step toward considering more flexible work options to accommodate different work styles.
I recently heard that of the people who have been working from home during this pandemic, about 30-ish percent prefer it and would like to do it more. Knowing how much I’ve thrived while working from home, I’m shocked the percentage isn’t higher. That spurred me to learn more about those who don’t prefer it like I do.
I decided to do some informal research by talking with my son, who just started a brand-new job without ever having met anyone from his new company in person. My son and I have a lot in common, but when it comes to our comfort levels regarding working from home, we couldn’t be more different. I have absolutely hit my stride working from home. My son cannot WAIT to get into the office. Taking a look at our personalities, I should have seen this coming.
For starters, I’m a ‘hit it early/do my best work in the morning’ kind of person. My son is a more laid-back kinda guy who really ramps up in the afternoon. When a typical workday starts at least by 9 am, (for me this can be waaay earlier!), the discipline required to be on-point can be a struggle for the afternoon-y folks. Why is this different working from home vs. physically going to an office? Well, accountability for one. Even though you may peak later in the day, you’re still expected to be in-office by 8 or 9. Without that definitive line dictating you need to be up and in a chair somewhere other than where you live, it can be challenging for late-day folks to take getting up early totally seriously without the ‘See, boss? I’m here!’ factor.
Now let’s talk about distractions and outside activity. I used to think I was excellent at focusing regardless of what’s going on, but after working from home for an extended period, I’ve learned a great deal about what focus can really be! For me, having total control of my environment (and this is everything from noise to smells to temperature) has enabled me to develop laser-focus. (OK, is anyone else picturing that scene in the Austin Powers movie with Dr. Evil’s air quotes around the word ‘laser’? No, just me? Also, the irony of talking about ‘focus’ and then going on a tangent like this hasn’t escaped me, but to me, blogs are fun).
My son, however, struggles to stay on point. I didn’t get it when he told me that, so I’ve looked back to his workstyle when he still lived at home and was supposed to be doing homework on the computer. The environment was chaos. He not only had music going through the computer speakers, he also felt the need to have the TV on and turned up, and he had earbuds in. He seemed to need all this activity and noise to focus. I’ve concluded that he needs some of the outside stimuli to keep on track. Counter-intuitive as that seems to me, that’s still his jam today!
Now on to work/life blur. Work/life blend is the ideal, but for some, it’s more blur than blend. As for me, I can sit and just work-work-work and lose track of time. I’ve learned it’s important to take breaks. That said, I’m good at remembering that I’m still on the job, so my breaks don’t entail things like writing a novel, having drinks, working at another job, traveling to the Bahamas, etc. To me, a break at home is no different than a break at the office. OK, I can’t throw a load of laundry in the washer at the office, so it’s the same but better! I’m also good at shutting my computer down when my hours are over (if I’m at a good stopping point). I’m not short-changing my workplace or my life-place.
In trying to help my kid with working from home, I mentioned making sure he’s taking breaks. Well, I soon learned this is different for him. For example, he likes video games and has caught himself losing track of (too much) time when he does that during a work break. Yikers!
To get some more clarity, I asked my son for the top reasons why he can’t wait to get into the office:
- No distractions — “At work, you’re there to work”
- He wants to meet his coworkers – he likes being around people
- They have a fitness center (wow!)
My top reasons for wanting to work from home as much as possible:
- No distractions — it’s not too hot and it’s super quiet
- Freedom of movement — I sit less at home because I have room to move around during my breaks. That and I take breaks now.
- Better work/life blend — I was commuting 9 hours a week! This has made an enormous impact on my whole life.
What I’ve learned to help me be at the top of my game while at home:
- Keep a schedule. Get up at the same time every single day, no matter what. In fact, don’t get up right before you need to sign on. Get up EARLY, do something that enriches you before you start the day!
- Get dressed. For me, sitting in my PJs just feels weird. Especially on conference calls. Has everyone seen that video where the guy doesn’t know he’s still on camera and he’s in his undies? I don’t wanna be that guy!
- Use breaks wisely. Take a quick walk, hop on the treadmill, whatever, just get away from the computer for a bit but keep track of your time. Don’t cheat your company, don’t cheat yourself.
- Be responsive. Even if you can’t complete something right away, acknowledge you’ve received the request and give a timeline. Remember — others may be feeling apprehensive about not being able to pop by your desk to check status on something.
- If you had a long commute, do something great with the extra time! For me, this has included completely rearranging my workout schedule to evening (no more getting up at 4 am – WOO HOO!).
- Make a dedicated workspace. I have no clue how people get things done on their couches and patios. I need 2 monitors to be efficient so the couch just won’t work for me! Having an ‘office’ also makes it easier to avoid work/life blur – you arrive and depart just like you would at work.
- Eat a balanced lunch. While it’s tempting to eat takeout or fast food, I found most of these options leave me tired & sluggish in the afternoon. Think quality protein, a little grain, a little fruit.
In sum, no matter which part of the spectrum you’re on — preferring an office, preferring home, or even being in between — the recent situation has likely helped some people learn a lot about themselves. I would love to see more companies implement flexibility by letting their people choose what works best for their employees individually. This will ensure the companies are getting the best versions of their employees and could go a long way toward retention of a quality workforce.