Home is Where the Work Is — The Social Aspects

There is something less than fully human in those who have never known a commitment to an idea, who have never risked an exploration of the unknown, who have never attempted the kind of creativity of which men and women are potentially capable.

Betty Friedan

I ended yesterday’s Home is Where the Work Is with a promise to continue writing about of aspects of creating a successful at-home workforce.  So far, I have been mostly focused on the technical aspects.  Today, I would like to consider the social attributes that must be considered.

While headsets, soft phones, and video cameras are essential to an at-home workplace, it takes more than technology to make an at-home employee successful.  Policies, procedures, and management styles that worked in the office may or may not be appropriate when employees are scattered across a city, metropolitan area, country, or even the world.  Companies that realize that are proactive when setting up work-at-home policies, reactive when changes are needed, and vigilant in keeping an eye on what will be needed in the near and long term futures.

Full disclaimer here.  I am a technical nerd who lacks degrees in psychology, social services, and philosophy.  I am far more comfortable writing Java code than developing human resources policies.  However, I have been working from home for a year and a half and have learned a thing or two during that time.  Not only can I tell you horror stories about what absolutely does not work when you take your job into the spare bedroom, I have experienced the absolute best parts of being a remote worker.  I am aware of what makes me productive, what doesn’t, and I am always open to wholesale change and/or refinement.

So, without any further blather, here are a few of the social aspects that I would like to address in today’s article.

Work at Home Culture

For decades, I was a dedicated head-to-the-office-every-weekday-morning kind of guy.  My cube (however unsavory as it may have been) was my workspace and being there meant I was officially on the job.  I would literally tell people that is what I preferred and could not imagine doing anything else.

All that changed when my building went through a major remodel and I could either find a place to work inside the noise and clutter or move home.  I tried the former for about a week and quickly decided that it was untenable and reluctantly packed up my stuff and moved home.

I was immediately met with all sorts of challenges.  These included isolation from coworkers, interruptions from my wife, a barking dog, and worst of all, a refrigerator that called to me all day long like the Sirens of Ulysses.

I won’t go through all my personal trials and tribulations in overcoming these obstructions to success (I did manage to lose the weight I immediately put on and found a way to manage my grazing behaviors).  I simply want to state that they must be dealt with on an individual and corporate level.  Businesses can do a lot when it comes to preparing employees for the changes that will occur.  They can also create systems that monitor an employee’s at-home well-being without coming off like Big Brother.  These include:

  • Regular team meetings with and without video
  • Frequent check-ins and (within reason) status reports
  • Continual and honest feedback
  • In person gatherings
  • Drop-in cubes and offices for employees that need an easy way to reconnect with office life
  • Virtual “happy hours”
  • An understanding that simply because an employee works from home, he or she is not expected to be at work 24 hours a day

My coworker, Farah Kirshteyn, wrote a wonderful LinkedIn article about what she has learned from a decade of working from home.  I highly suggest that you take a look at her Working from Home Tips During the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Managerial Challenges

Paying attention to a work-at-home employee is very important, but so is addressing the challenges that come from being his or her manager.  This includes work-from-the-office managers and work-from-home managers.  They have similar and unique issues that must be considered.

In all cases, the best managers are the ones that understand each of their direct report’s needs, issues, idiosyncrasies (of which I have many), etc.  They don’t adopt an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach.  Neither do they treat them differently than any in-office employees they might have.  This may be really hard for some managers and must be dealt with via training and monitoring from their supervisors.

Personally, I have had great remote managers and awful remote managers.  The great ones treated me like a full team member no matter where I was.  The worst were practically strangers that I only heard from when something went wrong.  I don’t need constant care and feeding, but I do appreciate the occasional recognition of my existence.

Mischief Managed

I have gone from being a stellar in-the-office employee (in my humble opinion) to a stumbling-around at-home worker to a work-at-home superstar (again, in my humble opinion).  The end result did not occur by accident.  Just like starting a new job, it takes time to find one’s bearings and learn how to become successful and productive.   Even now, I am a work in progress.  I make mistakes, learn from them, and find new ways to tackle daily/weekly/monthly challenges.

As millions of workers move home for who knows how long, technology and social science must cooperate if we are going to come out of this alive (figuratively and literally).  I have faith that we will.  All we need are level heads, ever changing and realistic expectations, and grit.  Lots and lots of grit.

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