The New Normal?
It’s a horrible term. It feels like the current situation we find ourselves in is supposed to be normal. I’m not sure I want to go back to the old standard - there were some pretty crappy things about it - but I also don’t want this normal.
I’ve seen quite a few polls that claim people are happier now. They prefer being at home; more time with the family, less time commuting, less office bullsh*t and, probably, healthier meals (unless you’re me, and your wife has baked things almost constantly, and you don’t fit into your work clothes anymore!)
Not going into the office has some significant upsides.
I enjoy working from home and all the benefits that brings, but I also miss working in an office. The thing is, there are some excellent reasons to go to the office. Or, at least, go to a place you share with other people. Maybe not daily, but with some regularity.
It’s good for your sanity.
😍 You love your family!
Some don’t have the luxury of separate spaces to stake out as a work area - like an office, garage or maybe a shed. They’ll be working at the kitchen table surrounded by all the distractions that working in a kitchen entails. No separate workspace is even more challenging if you have a partner or kids at home.
Even when I close my office door, I can’t lock it. My three-year-old doesn’t understand when Daddy is on a call (true story: he once kicked open the office door and announced “DADDY, I HERE!” wearing nothing but a pair of Lightning McQueen sunglasses. Luckily, I had my camera off at the time.)
While trying to work remotely with a partner and, perhaps, children is a challenge, working remotely when you’re by yourself must be an equally, albeit different, tough challenge. Some of my friends and colleagues live alone; some are lucky to have cats. But cats and house plants don’t replace actual human interaction. So, while your children are busy wiping jam on your leg while you talk to your boss, spare a thought for colleagues and friends who wish there were someone around to rub jam on their legs.
By the way, you only need to seek the advice of a shrink if your house plants begin talking back. One way conversations are fine, though.
You’ve probably heard that there are fewer water cooler moments. This means less serendipity, less spontaneous chat, less light bulb “ah-ha!” moments. Sure, you can zoom someone without booking a meeting, and I’ve heard of some folks who have a live connection to someone else running continuously, so you’re working with someone. Still, I’ve had many great one-off conversations and ideas that started with a chat in a hallway, or brief sit down over a coffee or lunch.
There are apps for that, of course, but nothing can replace the feeling of the spark when you connect with someone, generate an idea, a way forward, or a gossip.
🎉 Join the party
Humans are social animals. A workplace, for all its faults, is a social place. You might dislike Bob from sales, or struggle to find a parking spot, hate the commute or complain about the undrinkable coffee, but once you’re at work, you’re automatically part of a rich tapestry of social interaction that feeds some of your most human needs, whether you know it or not.
Also, I don’t know about you, but going into the office often led to after-work drinks with colleagues, or ex-colleagues, or other friends groups. It’s easier as everyone travelled from all over to work within the same few square miles, so meeting up was often more manageable.
In a remote-first (or only) world, these important social events are missing too.
One of the benefits I often hear (and have espoused myself) about working remotely is that, with the right framework in place, it means you can be adequately measured and your performance judged appropriately. Something like Objectives and Key Results, for example, can help you (and your employees) know what is expected of them and how they can smash their targets.
However, judging someone’s performance isn’t just about whether or not they hit their targets. As a manager, you want a rounded view of someone - how do they interact with colleagues, you and clients? How do they go about getting work done? If you only ever see the outcome, how can you know the process?
On the flip side, how do you know you’re doing the work the best, most efficient way if there’s no one to say “Hey, bonehead, why are you doing it that way?”
🤔 What’s the answer?
Right now, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. The world is still upside down. I think, though, the answer lies in flexibility. Giving employees the choice of where they work and when. Mandating anything, either remote or office work won’t wash anymore.
I know that, in the future, I want a balance. Maybe two, or three days at work, but other days at home. This is the best of both worlds. Of course, if there’s a particular reason I need to go in, client meeting, or similar, then I will.
Many years ago, I ran a ROWE trial at an SEM company I worked at. It went well (while I was there - once I left? Not so much :( ). One of the interesting things I discovered during this trial was that some people didn’t want to work anywhere except in the office. Some lived with large families and couldn’t get any work done; others lived by themselves and needed human interaction.
Remote work doesn’t work for some people.
And that’s OK. We need to be flexible.
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