Looking back at my diary, I notice that today marks day number 365 of working from home (WFH). Like a lot of organisations Fujitsu implemented this slightly earlier than the official UK lockdown date of March 23rd 2020.
When I look back further into January, February and early March of 2020, it now seems like a mad world of rushing from one location to another, from meeting to meeting, from car to train to office – never taking the time to look up – such was the pre-Covid world.
“What will the working world be like when we finally return to our offices” has been a common topic of conversation over the last year.
In the early days of the first lockdown, people talked of a “new normal” in which we imagined more flexible ways of working, mixing home and work locations – now many people long to return to the office, missing human contact. Albeit in my view some of the latter is viewed through “rose tinted glasses”, how many times have I recently heard people talk of missing going to the pub with colleagues – really, how often did we actually do that?
I don’t hear too many yearn for standing on a cold station platform waiting for another delayed train, or being crammed on the underground, with people sneezing all around or stuck in the never moving traffic jams night after night.
Whilst WFH has been a very differing experience for all, from a work perspective there have been some bizarre positives driven through everyone effectively being in the same location (through a screen) such as:
- A more personal engagement developing with colleagues and customers alike – driven by seeing directly into their houses and home lives – including in many cases getting to know their other halves and children as they have loomed on occasion into camera range.
- People taking time to check on each other and their families especially during lockdown 1
- Direct allocated time with colleagues and customers rather than both nodding at each other when in the same office but not actually spending quality time outside of formal meetings.
- Teams bonding much closer over the period – possibly through a common challenge
- Greater understanding of the need to balance work and home during daytime hours, evidenced heavily by the support of time out for the school run or home education for children
There has been lots written about the future of work – personally I think technology has a large part to play, however it will also be driven by behaviours.
Firstly, humans are largely hierarchical beings and once management return to the office many will follow for fear of not being seen or missing out – that will always be the case.
Obviously job type, industry type and culture will all also play a part. I suspect there is a common desire to not to go back to the pre-Covid way of working, or at least take some of the more positive changes in working practices enforced by Covid WFH into future work life.
The challenge will be hybrid working with some at home and some in the office. I heard recently that during this last year of Covid original full time home-workers have felt more engaged than they did pre Covid, mainly because everyone is in the same boat and they no longer feel like “outsiders”.
In order to deal with the challenge of mixing home and office working in future, there are a number of options such as, having some teams in the office on certain days of the week.
Obviously coordination is key – there is no point deciding that Tuesday is your day to see colleagues in the office – if they all come in on different days of the week.
To me, what really needs to be considered is what type of work actually needs to be face to face and what doesn’t – to commute for 3 hours a day to sit in an office in front of a screen all day seems now a great waste of time and productivity – even allowing for the value of the oft quoted “water cooler conversations”.
If working with customers, make sure the time on their site is with them and of value to them – not spent with headsets on in front of a screen talking to internal colleagues – maybe having Mondays and Fridays (if WFH) as internal call days.
Either way it is a complex subject – However, in my view if we think about it now before the full-on return to the office, and plan for restructuring through technology and our working behaviours then we have a chance of taking some of the benefits moving forward, creating an improved way of working which will have greater rewards for our people as well as our companies– rather than the alternate inevitable return to what we always did before Covid!
Finally I’d like to say thank you to all of my customers and colleagues for their support and friendship during this most surreal year of working.