Home-based, flexible working, coffee-based, out-of-the-office scheme, or digital workplace. Call it as you want. They all are basically about working anywhere but at an office, very popular today. There are tons of books, articles, and videos talking about it. Most of them saying how great and efficient it could be.
There are notes and voices giving recommendations to improve these working models. There are a few (big few) considering them better than the more traditional office-based work. And all of them are true, but…
Where’s the info about the difficulties to concentrate at home? What about the perils of not going out even for commuting? Who is talking about what it is missing human face to face contact? Or about parenting while working at the distance? Where are the versions of the wives, husbands, and kids of a home-based office worker? Is it really that great? Is it better than working at an office?
I am sure there are some great articles answering these questions, I just have not found them yet. Therefore, I decided to put my two cents on it and here are my truths about it, but first, let me be clear:
I can’t say otherwise. I have tried and I liked it. I have done great working at the distance, sometimes at home, sometimes at a café. I like to be close to my family while working and I like the flexibility this model provides. It benefits people and organizations.
According to this note, working remotely increases productivity and efficiency, and it lowers stress and turnover. Street, Wand, and Tetali from ghSMART mention in this Harvard Business Review article that remote work even increases ownership and engagement of the people towards their projects and organizations. Paul Miller says in his book The Digital Workplace that this model is able to foster engagement:
I think – from my own experience – that all this is true. There are excellent examples of companies working entirely under a remote scheme, such as 37signals or IBF. Paul Miller gives very good insights in his book about the way IBF operates at the distance:
And all these comments and insights in favor of home-based work are true. However, from my experience, there are a couple of truths people rarely talk about.
1. There is something about physical and at-the-moment human communication
Jason Fried – author of Rework and CEO/Founder of Basecamp – says that asynchronous communication is a very efficient way to deliver information, messages, and get the job done, because it gives you time and space to think, meditate, and come up with answers, ideas, and solutions that otherwise could be blocked at a physical and instant interaction.
Fried is one of the most passionate promoters of the at-the-distance work. However, there is a detail that is often neglected about his comments:
Fried did not discard moments of synchronous and physical communication.
He says that for some critical situations meeting people at real-time is the best way to get things done. Meaning, do not LIMIT yourself to an office space; we have technology so, embrace it. But DO NOT LIMIT communication to the digital world either.
I have concluded the same because there is something about the in-situ interaction that adds to the job.
Sometimes, the simplest and tiniest contact with other people provokes positive reactions.
Many times, I have been in the middle of corridor-talk sharing issues, ideas, or tasks with my peers and more than once I have found answers and better perspectives at these informal meetings and feedbacks. And this is just to say one an example.
The office provides certain structure and reachability that is positive to the job. Moreover, it creates a community that adds to the individuals. This is harder at home or at the distance. Not impossible, but harder.
For example, Joey Baer of Convince and Convert (a digital workplace) tries to generate this sense of community by bringing his team together annually for a strategic meeting and just to provoke the human contact required to have a healthy team.
From my experience, while working at the distance has been productive and efficient, meeting people and office interactions at critical times have been as productive and efficient (sometimes more) given the power of “being there” and appreciate the whole person (words, gestures, emotions, feelings, and so).
2. Not the same when you married…with CHILDREN!
I agree with all the people that say that home-based work gives you the chance to be with your family a bit more, given the nature and perks of this scheme. But there is a paradox here. Why would we underestimate the power of being physically at an office, while overestimating the power of being physically at home?
Don’t get me wrong, I agree that it makes a big difference to have your “office” at home or to have “full-decision-making-power” over your time. This flexibility allows you to be closer and longer with our acquaintances, but (there is always a but) let’s be honest: sometimes your husband, wife or kids, could be an irresistible temptation or even a more demanding boss.
Happens to me. It is very easy – when I have the chance to work at home and my wife is around – to start a conversation, just because her presence is a good enough reason to talk to her. I also have the luck to be the dad of a charming daughter and it is not necessary to say how much I love to be with her all the time. So, imagine when I am at home, working, and she is laughing at the other room. Worse, imagine when she is sick or crying. It is not easy to be there and keep focused on the job. My good friend Carlos Pompa would agree.
3. Not for everyone…and it is valid!
The joint report by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and Eurofound found that 41% of highly mobile employees reported higher levels of stress, compared to 25% of office workers. Why?
The report found that people working from home have a tendency to work longer hours, blurring the lines between work and personal life. Ironic isn´t it?
My good friend Charles, who lives in England works home-based all the time and he has told me that he suffers two pains: he distracts quite easy at home and he tends to lose boundaries between home and work. He says: I prefer working at an office and doing something else at my home.
We need to remember that there is more than one kind of intelligence and many ways to learn and work. Charles has his own way, I have mine. Not because at the distance work is popular and innovative, it means that works for everyone. What is in fashion, not necessarily will fit all people.
4. A blended approach could be the answer
This note is not to say negative things about home-based work. I like it. This article is to vindicate a bit the office world and propose a new way to see both.
From my experience, I have concluded that maybe the best could be a blended scheme. I work most of the time at an office. However, I travel a lot and also my boss gives me the chance to work – sometimes – out of the office. When? During critical tasks or when I really need to focus on something. Why? Because there are some tasks that I will do better at the distance.
However, I try to be wise enough to choose these moments, because not all my tasks will benefit from being out of the office. For certain tasks, I am really productive when I’m there. I have found though, that for other missions the digital workplace is highly efficient to achieve the goals. So, why to put one against the other? They should be complementary.
Then, a good practice could be to seek how to provide some of these two approaches to our colleagues, teammates, employees, and to ourselves. Let’s reimagine what the workplace is and how it works to build its future. Not by erasing or destroying one approach or the other, but by taking the best elements from them and shaping a whole new one.
Any suggestion? Any experience?
Try it and share your experiences. Contact me if you want to chat a bit more about it. I will be happy to share my own experiences.
Please, share this article or send it to a friend or colleague you think will find useful. There is always someone.
Diego is an experienced learning advisor, a certified trainer and a design thinking consultant.
He is available for advisory where the focus is on driving transcendental learning and lasting change. Moreover, he is always eager to chat.