Over the last several years, work from home (WFH) has been a significant discussion topic in my line of work. Today, it’s front and center. The current state of affairs has allowed me to reframe how I view it: I realized that I was looking at the issue from a narrow perspective, how it benefits the employee.
Most of my conversations with candidates included a portion devoted to WFH. Without prompt, many people volunteer that they are willing to take a lateral move, and in many cases consider a step down financially for the opportunity to work from home on a regular basis. It’s come up so often in conversation that I started posing the question to everyone: candidates, hiring managers, talent acquisition and HR professionals: “How do you value WFH”? I wanted to know what people thought based on the value they assigned to it.
Based on many of those conversations, I realized ‘work from home’ had developed a deeply negative connotation for many employees. It seems to have mostly fallen short of expectations. At best, it is a privilege that allows limited flexibility. At worst, it’s a litmus test to prove employee loyalty by eschewing the time. Conceptually, it makes sense. However, in practice, WFH is misunderstood and applied poorly. It becomes more risk than benefit to most.
My perspective needed to shift.
Jack Dorsey, CEO, announced that Twitter and Square employees (with the exception of those whose roles necessitated a physical presence in order to do the job) could work from home in perpetuity. It will be the employee’s choice. One end of the spectrum.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, warns that permanent WFH could lead to long term mental health issues due to lack of personal connectedness. And may also lead to loss of serendipity leading to ideation around the water cooler. The other end of the spectrum?
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, believes that 50% of his employees could be working from home permanently. And, he thinks WFH compensation may be based on geographic location (and the associated cost of living in a specific area). Somewhere in between.
Every company will need to do their own assessments. This is what prompted me to think about the issue differently.
Let’s ask a slightly different question: Does WFH provide real value?Looking at it through an outcome-based lens, there is indeed room for making an argument for reassessing WFH. Imagine the change in value using just three variables:
But not just more time. In my conversations and online discussions, many pointed to the absence of a commute, for example. But it is not just skipping the need to prepare for getting into a car or train. It’s the ability to slow down a bit, to pause, that is helping. It’s the quality of time people get back.
Because this way, time becomes an ally and not an adversary to get in front of and fight against all day. The mental lift of not having to rush through the day is a liberating. I believe it leads to greater focus on the work tasks. And, it generally allows employees to make more time to work, more than they have ‘at the office’.
Quality of Life
This is another overused and somewhat misunderstood concept. But everyone mentions it when they talk about their job—positively or negatively. Having the flexibility to do certain tasks at a time that suits you a bit better during the course of a day is meaningful.
Playing with a child or walking your dog and being able to interact and be ‘in the moment’, these are all forms of momentary pause that create a powerful feeling of connection. This feeling leads to a greater sense of loyalty. Do you know anything that could be better for employee retention?
Everyone is different. We all work at a different pace, have our own cycles of productivity and are affected differently by stimuli (or lack of) each and every day. The ability to work nonstop when in the zone or having a sense of ease at taking a power nap mid-afternoon are meaningful to improve energy levels and satisfaction. Employers call them– luxuries. Indeed, they are. But not in the direction of slack, quite the opposite. Don’t employers want the best effort, and greatest output from employees?
Other Potential Tradeoffs
Does working from home mean we lose the chance spark of an impromptu meeting yielding a corporate breakthrough? I guess… Do people lose serendipity? Somewhat… Is there a chance mental health issues can arise for some individuals? Most Probably… Developing a sense of intuition is a challenge in digital. Reading people and inspiring ideas seems more related to proximity and connectedness. On the whole, however, it seems the positives outweigh the negatives.
Should we then be paying more for employees working from home rather than less?
Given the angle of focus right now, it seems ( at least for the moment) that people can be more productive when working from home. And, if the productivity levels rise, should the compensation go up as well? It makes sense that we should discuss and evaluate WFH from this angle.
What’s the value of WFH and to whom?
That’s the question behind the question, isn’t it? I cannot answer that alone, at least, not now. But one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic is that it is providing us with areal time laboratory to test ideas. People and (hopefully) companies are engaged in ongoing experiments.
The WFH questions will find answers at both macro and micro levels. Every company already has the opportunity to collect its own data, explore options and develop insights. There’ll be no excuses post lockdown. Each company has the opportunity to be different. It’ll be interesting to see how WFH evolves: in policy, guidelines and results.
Afterall, we are in a Liminal Space. This is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it inform us.