Yes, I know, yet another piece of work on this subject. I’ll do my best to keep it concise, interesting, and useful!
It’s a common debate, isn’t it?! What’s best? Well, first of all we need to ask a better question. “What’s best?” is subjective. Best for who? For the person who works in a toxic office environment, or lives a distance away from the office, or many such reasons, remote working can be the best option.
For a business needing to save money on expensive office related overheads, remote working policies can help keep people in their jobs.
For those of us in society who are socially awkward (and I use the term “us” deliberately), again remote working might be the better option.
There are so many reasons to put in the plus column when it comes to remote working, the ones I’ve mentioned merely scratch the surface; it’s very easy to say that remote working is best.
But what do we lose?
Anthropologically speaking, Human Beings thrive when they feel part of a community. Extroversion vs introversion is irrelevant. I’m a living testament to the fact that social awkwardness can be overcome – it’s hard work, but blimey the difference it makes to us, mentally and emotionally, is incredible. It’s an undisputable fact, that many mental health issues stem from social isolation, or through being connected with the wrong people or being in the wrong environment.
It’s also an undisputable fact that people operate at their best when they have meaningful connections. By surrounding ourselves with people who challenge us, encourage us, want the best for us, and make us feel comfortable asking for help, we have the best chance of reaching our potential. When the people reach their full potential, so does the business.
We live in a world with easy access to fantastic technology that helps us stay “connected”. Digital connection is definitely useful. It helps us overcome distance barriers, it helps decisions to be made faster, and it means we can work from anywhere in the world, at any time. Digital connection though, is not the same as human-to-human connection. True human-to-human connection requires us to share the same space, with people who want the best for us. Mehrabian himself admits that the common interpretation of his theory isn’t what he meant, but that doesn’t mean, at a basic level, it doesn’t have some truth to it?
Have you ever sent someone a text message, and ended up falling out because it was interpreted in the wrong way? Have you ever misread an email which has caused problems? Have you ever been distracted during an online meeting and missed some important information? There are so many examples of this, put simply they happen because we haven’t got access to all the layers of communication required for it to be fully effective. We only get all of those layers, face-to-face.
There are many statistics that tell us that productivity and profitability have increased through remote working. But as George Canning, 18th century PM, once said, “I can prove anything by statistics except the truth”. What those statistics don’t tell us are the metrics used to produce them. The fact productivity has increased tells me the office environment was ineffective. That’s a leadership issue, not a working in office problem.
So, there are many put in the plus column for home working, and for in office working. What’s the answer?
The obvious answer is Hybrid working. The modern world is very different to the Boomers, Gen Xs & Gen Ys of us. There are people in the workplace born after 1997 who have never known a pre-internet, and mobile communications, world. Leaders need to accept that a huge amount of flexibility is needed, but Hybrid working, done wrong, can be extremely damaging.
A common mistake I’ve seen is the Hybrid solution being based around certain hours, or days in the week. This doesn’t appreciate the dynamic nature of the modern working world. If we require flexibility to get the best out of us, so do other people. That means plans need to change, we can’t make every meeting suit our hours, nor can we expect all tasks to fit in with our schedule.
As an employee, regardless of our level within the organisation, if we ask for, and expect our employers to offer us flexibility, we need to provide the same in return. It’s a 2-way street. Hybrid policies based on certain days, or certain hours, place too many obstacles in the way for efficient flexibility. We need to look at the tasks instead.
There are many, many tasks, that don’t require us to make expensive, time consuming, and sometimes stressful trips to the office. They can very easily be done at home, in a coffee shop, or shared workplace. There are also many, many, tasks that need to be completed in the workplace. Whether that be because of the safety equipment needed, the machinery required, nature of the job, the need for collaboration, or even to induct and settle in new members of staff.
A hybrid solution that’s focused on the needs of the task, rather than time, requires 2-way flexibility, but becomes so much more efficient.