The recent decision by CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayers, to ban her employees from working from home has prompted many of us to reflect on what it is that makes working from home work. The internet is a tool of outstanding usefulness when it comes to remote working and it seems ironic that a company whose business is the internet should be involved in such a backward step in the move towards sustainable working. However, this news does highlight how even the most successful and sophisticated technological advances will fail when the mindset and values are not in place to engage it.
Having worked from home myself for the last 23 years and coached others in doing the same for the last 8, here are some of the key instances I’ve defined for when it doesn’t work and how to work around that:
When there is lack of trust.
I suspect this is the ‘real’ reason for Yahoo’s change of working regime. There needs to be trust on both sides, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean setting up monitoring systems, but rather focussing on effective collaboration and communication to make it as easy as possible for both employer and employee to make the best of the numerous potential benefits of home working, such as increased productivity, employee fulfilment, stress reduction, reduced operating costs and lost hours due to travel and stress related illness.
When you’re not self-motivated or are unclear on what your motivation is.
This can apply, I think, to both employer and employee. An employer who depends on face to face contact with employees to micromanage will find it challenging to switch to trusting remote contact. Similarly, if both parties are unwilling to acknowledge and express what their aims and objectives are in engaging with home working, then it will be tough to implement as neither will have the bigger picture. Work is then likely to feel purposeless. It’s far more effective, in my experience, to own the gap in understanding and alignment and arrange to have the ‘aims and objectives’ conversation.
When you are addicted to gossip and offic politics.
Mayers cites conversations round the water cooler where co-created ideas can arise spontaneously as one of the reasons for calling all employees back into the office. Whilst I respect that this kind of creativity does occasionally happen, it’s what happens the rest of the time – life negating conversation – that gets in the way of meaningful productivity. Gossip and office politics are not life serving activities and they can be tricky to avoid in any business, but particularly where face to face contact is the norm. working from home can be a great opportunity to raise awareness of how one is communicating and to consciously foster mutually beneficial relationships.
When you are not willing to intend and create your own social life.
For many, the workplace can provide a ready-made source of social activity and friendship. When working from home, it can require much more of an effort to create a social network that suits us. However, one of the benefits of this is that we can be prompted to reflect more deeply on who we do and do not wish to spend time with. It becomes a more aware and rewarding decision.
When communication is poor.
If we are not good communicators ourselves, then working from home is only going to make this more challenging as we lose, or reduce, the face to face contact with colleagues. If your employer or up-line is not a skilled communicator, then you might not have the fall back option of catching them face to face. For some this can be a major hurdle. For others, it can actually stimulate taking action to improve their communication skills.
When competition outweighs collaboration.
Being physically alone at home, rather than in amongst fellow workers, can wreak havoc with the imagination if there is already any kind of paranoia in the workplace. If I don’t value my worth in my job and am unsure whether others do, then being physically removed from them, and where I can’t keep an eye on them, is likely to fuel my self-sabotaging thoughts. The key to succeeding with this is to reflect on the source of the paranoia and competition within ourselves and shift our intention and focus to cooperation and collaboration, whether in the office or at home.
When you don’t know how to balance work and personal life.
When the work and home environments are physically and socially separate, it can be easier for some to switch off from work out of hours and focus on personal life, and vice versa. Once those two environments are combined in some way, then it’s more important to be self-motivated to create separate physical, mental and emotional space at home.
If you’re currently working from home, how are you getting on?