Thoughts on Working From Home During a Pandemic
I don’t like it. I didn’t like it much before #stayathome was trending, and I like it even less now. I do not like it in a house. I do not like it with a mouse. I do not like it, stay-at-home-I-am.
This is not to say I don’t like being at home, it’s just the working part that’s not working out so well. I’m not working out either, but that’s a different matter.
Everywhere I turn there are articles from people who’ve been working from home for years in distributed organizations explaining how we’re doing it all wrong, if we just did it right we’d love it. Well, thank you for the extra layer of guilt for not enjoying working from home, but no thanks.
I am probably the only person in the world who truly loves open space offices (but only real open spaces, not cubicles), so this exercise is easy for me: Imagine I wrote an article introducing a model for open space evolution, suggesting that people “at the bottom” who find open spaces distracting, hard to focus and ineffective are somehow flawed and just need to learn how to use headphones and find an isolated spot to achieve “open space flow”. How cringe worthy does that sound to you? That’s how all the working from home nirvana models sound to me.
Of course there are some good tips for managing working from home, and I totally get that some organizations make it work and make it work well. But what they’re missing in their description of how working from home is so amazing is the element of choice. People who work well from home in a distributed organization actively self selected that style of work. For whatever reason, they decided that’s what works for them. They fit in well and thrive (and those who don’t — suffer through it or leave).
Most of us did not choose to work from home.
I like the separation of work and home. I like getting dressed and wearing makeup. I even like the commute (if the traffic is not too bad) — it’s my quiet time for thinking, listening to music, audiobooks and podcasts, time which is nearly impossible to carve out with 3 kids at home.
I like building relationships casually next to the coffee machine, not in prescheduled calls or outings. I like the presence of others, or at least — some more than others. Distributed companies have to work hard to create relationships and a sense of community, in the office it grows naturally from working together in the same physical space.
I don’t want to take an hour in the middle of the day for yoga or whatever. And frankly, if I wanted to I could do it from the office as well. I have all the flexibility I need and want. Being flexible with work hours does not require everyone to work from home all the time.
I like the serendipity and spontaneous interactions of the open space. A bit of noise and the occasional distraction is a small price to pay. I like looking around and seeing who’s around to bounce ideas off, instead of the open ended ping on slack where I may or may not get a timely response. I realize that serendipity is not a business model, but when you’re working from home it’s just not going to happen never ever.
I like real whiteboards and markers, not the sorry excuse online tools provide. Give me a whiteboard and a marker and I will move the world! Even if you happen to have a whiteboard at home, I’d like to see you try to point your camera at it and get everyone to see what you’re drawing there. I doubt you will succeed.
We do our share of asynchronous work, and it’s great, really. We can do incredible work using online collaboration tools. Hey, I work at a company that offers just that! But even if you’ve actively screened your candidates for excellent writing communication skills (which I hope you have if you’re a fully remote workplace), written communication has its limits. When there’s no face to face interaction it’s far easier to end up with misunderstandings you’re not even aware of. Even over a video call, you’re missing a lot of visual cues to show you someone is unhappy or frustrated with the direction the meeting is going in, or simply has lost the context and doesn’t understand what’s going on (not to mention the hearing impaired who find video calls very difficult to follow).
My point is there is no perfect way to work, each work arrangement has advantages and disadvantages, and each person has their own preferences, which may change over time and personal circumstances. You shouldn’t assume just because something works for you it will work for everyone (cough cough, open spaces cough).
Thank you for reading my rant. Stay at home and stay healthy!