14 June 2021

Office v WFH?

The Covid pandemic has created a whole new dynamic in the employer/employee relationship. Enforced working from home (WFH) at the height of the global virus thrust a number of staff and bosses into a whole new way of working. Appropriate technologies such as Zoom and Teams were quickly adopted and became the norm. Even the most ardent technophobe realised that these things can work intuitively and reliably, but, is home working for everyone and does it meets the needs of every employer?

There are a number of factors that contribute to whether WFH can really be the new normal, or whether ‘hybrid’ working solutions, or the traditional office hub will be welcomed back.

1. Work type

The type of tasks undertaken at work are obviously key. If tasks can be undertaken independently and require a period of uninterrupted attention, then WFH works really well. The most motivated and disciplined people will get more done in 4 hours of focused time with the door shut and mobile switched off than they could ever achieve in a standard 8-hour office day.

This may not be the case where interaction and collaboration are required, however. Networking, accessible help, overhearing ‘stuff’ and the micro-communications that lubricate teamwork can all be missing.

Those learning a job or trying to develop higher level and their next career promotion may well feel disadvantaged by not being immersed with higher-skilled, motivated individuals on a daily basis. Most environments rely on a certain amount of learning by ‘osmosis’ as well as formal development means.


2. Organisational culture

Businesses set up to operate as teams and to feed off of each other’s motivation and experience will find it harder to sustain this positive energy with staff WFH. Problem-solving, sharing, laughing and intervening are all done in real-time, ad hoc and instinctively in a shared workspace and can’t be replicated remotely or through scheduled meetings. For many organisations, the buzz of the workplace is an essential characteristic of the organisation and an important part of why staff to choose to work there. Is the work itself the reason we choose and stay with an employer? More often it is the people we work with, the environment that is created and the values which we believe mirror our own which give us that sense of belonging that is so important to a positive employer-employee relationship.

Maintaining these positive aspects of culture will be a huge challenge for businesses where WFH is prevalent.


3. Individual character and needs

The final component in making WFH work is the character and needs of the individual employee and their unique circumstances. How do they handle working alone? Do they have the right home environment to make this work?

The ability to separate work from home life will be essential for some and less important for others. Whilst distractions may occur and the individual discipline to manage these distractions will be different for everyone it is clear it cannot be resolved by corporate policy. The desire to interact with colleagues is again personal. The risk of alienation or discrimination cannot be ignored where some work together in an office whilst others are at home. Perhaps again, this is more important for staff looking to establish themselves or gain recognition that may feed their progress within a business, more than with those who are happy to complete their tasks in isolation.

Even without considering the financial and time implications for both parties, such as office overheads for employers and commuting time and cost for employees, who pays for the coffee and who is responsible for internet stability? We can see that that the future of office and homeworking is a complex picture. It certainly will not be covered by a ‘one size fits all’ solution and will need open and frank communication from everyone.