Technology has allowed more people than ever to work from home and whilst this may…
Should You Be Working From Home Today or Joining Your Team?
Let me invite you to think for a moment about your routines around working from home:
- How do you decide whether to work from your home office on a particular day or morning or to go to your company’s workspace?
- Do you make this decision at the start of the day, on a whim, or do you plan your movements ahead?
- Do you try to spend as much time around your team as possible, or do you only join them when you need to meet someone face to face?
- What difference does it make whether you work from home or in your company’s workspace? Where are you the most energised, focused and productive?
Working from home can be tempting when you need a few uninterrupted hours to get things done, or you just don’t want to face the hurdles of commuting. And if you enjoy the freedom and convenience that comes with working by yourself, in your own space, you probably want to believe that you can be highly productive this way.
But how accurate are your judgements? With so many influences in play, it can be difficult to know whether you should stay at home or join your busy team in order to be able to produce the most value for your business on any given day.
So before you head to your wardrobe and reach for your tracksuits or business attire, here are a few things you might want to consider:
1. Interruptions and distractions.
At home, it can be relatively easy to block out external distractions and interruptions, as long as you have an adequate home office which allows you to keep your home and work life separate, and your family (or housemates) respect your boundaries.
But whether you’re able to refrain from distracting yourself is another question.
Many people find it difficult to stay focused and relentlessly motivated when working by themselves, especially for long periods of time.
When work becomes a bit challenging or unexciting, and there’s no-one around to keep you in check, do you have the willpower to stay on task? Or do you take countless ‘quick breaks’, perhaps looking for some light entertainment on the internet or grabbing a snack from the kitchen, only to find hours later that you’ve made very little progress with your task?
2. Mental health and wellbeing.
A quiet, comfortable home office can provide a soothing refuge from the often disturbing noise of the typical open office, the uneasy air of, hopefully occasional, office politics, and the proximity of colleagues with irritating habits.
They are wonderful people of course, but it’s a bit difficult to love them while they keep humming R&B songs right beside you, chewing on sunflower seeds all day, or sharing too many personal details over the phone.
For any person tired of trying to stay sane and productive in an often stressful and distracting workplace, the home office can look like a true oasis. It’s a peaceful and steady environment, a personal space where you’re in full control.
However, spending too much time alone can also take a toll on your mental health. Many home-based workers experience a sense of isolation or loneliness, missing the regular informal, face-to-face catch-ups with their colleagues. And especially, those with social, outgoing personalities can also develop symptoms of depression and anxiety, for which the best cure is to go back to the office.
3. Work relationships.
If you feel confident that you and your team can all work effectively without being in the same room, this is a sign that you have a lot of mutual trust and a positive workplace culture.
But keep in mind that if you spend a significant amount of time away from your people, you might risk weakening your work relationships. Developing and maintaining close connections and friendships through digital interactions is tricky.
We are social beings, and inherently biased in many ways. That’s why we tend to think more often about the people we see day after day, compared to those we mostly interact with remotely. Studies consistently show that office workers who regularly see each other in person not only speak more with one another but also communicate more frequently online (e.g. via emails).
What’s more, we tend to think more highly of team members who breathe the same air as we do and underestimate the abilities of those out of sight (this is why high performing employees who work a lot from home often miss out on promotion). So as a business owner, it’s important that you spend enough time with your team to prevent these biases.
4. Work-life balance.
For many of us, working from home doesn’t usually feel like hard work. We are grateful for our freedom and independence, and thus tend to care about our work, colleagues and business more.
Working from home makes it easier to balance work and home commitments, and allows us to do something useful or enjoyable during those hours we’d otherwise spend sitting in traffic or on a jam-packed train.
But if we’re not careful things can backfire.
Since we’re ‘out of sight’, and have a relatively hassle-free life while working from home, we may feel the need to put in extra hours to prove to ourselves and our team that we are actually being productive. In fact, people working from home often spend the time saved on commuting doing more work.
When we’re away from our team, communicating through the internet or over the phone, we may also put the expectation on ourselves to be contactable 24/7 and to answer emails and messages straightaway.
So instead of achieving a healthy balance, the boundaries between our work and life may disappear completely, and so we can never switch off and fully relax.
5. Individual and team performance.
You may find that you’re able to use your time well and make good progress with your tasks when you work from home.
But when you assess your productivity, do you also look at the bigger picture, and consider how your business might be impacted?
Informal conversations in the workplace can help people gain valuable insights about their jobs and the business, spark new ideas, and lead to great decisions. Spending much time working by yourself can, therefore, limit the opportunities for you and your team to bounce ideas off and learn from each other.
People with different strengths and talents working side by side can inspire each other to perform better. This is yet another opportunity lost when you spend much time away from your team.
Finally, here are some sad facts revealed by research:
With people spending more and more time interacting with each other remotely, and less and less face to face, social skills and emotional intelligence, including empathy, are declining steadily.
Only you can judge how this could possibly impact your business.
Where to go from here?
Numerous workplace studies have delved into how productive people are (or feel) when working remotely, and the results vary greatly. In some businesses, the majority of people are more productive at home, while in others most members need to be in the office in order to do their best work.
Whether a person can work effectively from home depends on many factors, such as their personality, the quality of their home office, and the nature of their work.
But for you, and perhaps also for some of your team members, the question is not whether you should or shouldn’t work from home. What you need to figure out is when it’s best for you to stay in your bubble, and when it’s more beneficial to be physically present with your team.
There is a lot to take into account, but hopefully, after thinking through the pros and cons, you will be able to make smarter, well-considered decisions about working from home, maximising your individual and team performance.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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