A brilliant new post which cuts through the fluff of those currently dissing the merits of homeworking.

by Jill Spurr

Perhaps we’ve been working at home for so long now, we’ve forgotten those office ‘characters’… the one who always offers to make an extended round of hot drinks even though it takes ages… the one who talks about the football result from last night for a good thirty minutes several times a day… the one who just pops off to see a colleague about something and is gone until lunchtime… takes ages over that report you thought was quite straightforward… checks their phone eleventy-billion times a day… flicks their screen over when you’re near because they’ve been Googling new jobs…doesn’t flick their screen over from their job search because frankly, they don’t care anymore…

We may have forgotten them, but the disengaged have always been there.

Working from home was a literal lifeline during lockdown. Apart from reducing the risk of us transmitting Covid to each other (and I speak as someone who constantly had sniffles and bugs when I was office-based), it enabled people to manage childcare and other responsibilities, while maintaining momentum in work under the most difficult and worrying circumstances in recent memory.

Home was, quite simply, the stable foundation from which we have collectively pushed, pulled and pummelled the country to this point, where we are transitioning from pandemic to endemic.

A year ago, as we yoyoed between lockdown and limited liberty, publication after publication ran articles on the opportunity in the pandemic and choosing – wisely – between what of the past we wished to keep, and what was an opportunity to do things differently, better, more sustainably and in keeping with our environmental ambitions. When we finally emerged, it would be to a brave(ish), new(ish) world.

Yet now, after two years of overwhelming evidence that working outside of the rigid 9-5 desk-a-thon can yield benefits, there is new rhetoric that people can’t be trusted if they aren’t in the office. It’s like the coffee waitress, football fan and the ‘only here till someone offers me a job’ colleague are somehow deterred from their work avoidance by the presenteeism of their managers – when in reality, it’s quite the opposite that is true. It’s that lack of trust, the inability to treat employees as functioning adults, that contributes to a culture that destroys the will for people to deliver. And that culture lives in the office and follows us home.

I have a theory that the people who use their platform to sagely describe how those working from home are eating their body weight in Cathedral City one thimbleful at a time or are taking to the garden with a glass of Prosecco because it’s the warmest day of the year so far, are doing so with absolute conviction that it’s true – because that’s exactly what they would do themselves. You will always get your Minimum Efforters, but they manifest wherever they are. They are different entirely from the disengaged, sloping off to the staff kitchen to make a solitary coffee for themselves, and to grab another snick of someone else’s Red Leicester (they’ll never notice…).

But for most of us who work in an agile way, or who are self-employed from home, the concept that work is something we do, not somewhere we go, has been a game-changer, creating a culture that allows us to thrive. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but neither is being office-centric. Choice is empowering, so let those of us who choose to work flexibly do so without people projecting their own poor work ethic in our direction.

On a professional level, the ability to work remotely means that we can appoint the best people to create a dynamic team regardless of where they live. And where I work, we certainly have, from the northeast to the southwest. 

On a more personal level, working from home means I’m happier and healthier. The job I love and the life I love aren’t pulling me in opposite directions.  

My daily stresses have gone. I don’t have to juggle finding a suitable parking spot for my long-wheel-based van, which can be like manoeuvring a boat in a bathtub at the best of times. I don’t have to factor in time before work to prepare lunch and then spend my precious break time hitting the shops for something appealing to eat while my cheese and pickle roll remains in the fridge – at home, forgotten in my rush to leave on time. It’s apparently stereotyping, but yes, whacking a wash on while I make a cuppa is an enormously helpful way to manage my time more effectively.

Being at home with my dogs is good for my mental health, even if one does occasionally get stuck in the Kallax shelving of my home office (don’t ask). They are less distracting than human colleagues; they sleep, pop out to the garden when I take a break, and occasionally show a little interest in the screen I’m talking to. Having my frayed and wobbly eldest dog snoring at my feet each day as he potters towards the inevitable fate of a 14-year-old dog is something precious beyond measure – time, and memories, are truly life’s greatest gifts. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to spend more time where and with whom it matters most, so if that means allowing staff to be available for the school run, so be it. The employee will benefit, so the business will benefit.

I have more restful break periods yet get more done. I’m not rushing around trying to fit the things I love to do, the things I need to do and the things I have to do into the same 24 hours as everyone else has and failing miserably to hit the balance (or at least feeling that way).

And yes, sometimes I eat cheese. I like it.

When I do go into the office, I’m more appreciative of the connection from being with colleagues. It’s refreshing, rather than stressful, even when the traffic is a nightmare – not least because I know I don’t have to queue in the traffic again tomorrow, and the day after that, and…

Working flexibly is also a reasonable adjustment. It levels up – people with disabilities or care responsibilities can be comfortably accommodated and work equably, particularly when they have choice around where, when and how they work.

When we speak about creating engagement with a company, what we mean is that the employee feels part of the whole; that they see, understand and value their place there. It is much, much easier to have that sense of belonging when the work structure isn’t at odds with how you want to live – yes, work-life balance.

A culture that empowers the individual to be the best version of themself, and have the accountability that comes with it, is what makes a good job into a great job. While the work environment contributes to the whole, it doesn’t compensate for a lack of emotional intelligence, even when it offers zingy interior design and free fruit once a week. Productivity is the consequence of culture, and nothing destroys culture – and productivity – quicker than a lack of trust.

So, if your employees aren’t productive, maybe you need to look closer to home.  

Jill Spurr is head of communications and marketing at Affinity Trust. You can say hello on Twitter at @dreamworkbc

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