Work from office or home?

Have you recently been asked by your employer to start coming to office for work? Were you excited by the prospect of going back to office or depressed?

With many organizations trying to woo employees back to working from office, for many employees “Will I be forced back to working from office?” may feel like an existential question — the answer to which could have some serious ramifications to the quality of their lives. I say this — after having spoken with employees who are dreading to have to go back to working from office, and also those who have already started working from office a couple of times to all five days in a week. I have also had discussions with a few members of senior management who are earnestly exploring ways to bring employees back to office while minimizing disruption to their lives.

We are transitioning into post-COVID-19 new normal and things will ultimately settle one way or the other — although in all likelihood, the new normal will certainly be different from the old normal — at least as far as working from office is concerned.

I believe there are two dimensions in which this can be assessed — the “inside” and “outside” views — something I explored in an earlier blog called Career Choices. To be sure, by “inside view”, I mean the features and characteristics of the opportunity in the context of one’s career growth. “Outside view” refers to the non-career aspects that have significant bearing on career choices (e.g., impact on family)

“Inside” perspective

  • In my mind there is no question that career prospects will significantly raise when one works from office whereas working from home largely limits career progress
  • If you look around the organization where you work and try to tease out common features of those who progress well in their careers, I’m sure you will notice that faster progress happens to those who are closer to management or those who are based out of headquarters or those who are based on the same floor or same building as senior management
  • This is not to say that such folks do not deserve those career promotions — many do but it is also a fact that more talented and value adding employees from regional/local/remote offices are generally left behind in career journeys
  • A number of factors contribute to this
  1. With more face time, employees will be able to present their successes to the management more and consequently during promotion deliberations, management is more favourably impressed by several significant accomplishments of those employees. Management members fall prey to availability bias
  2. Management is better placed to control and influence those who are physically closer to them. Also, for senior management to progress their careers, “control” and “influence” of teams/groups/units play critical role. So, management is strongly incentivized to take care of employees closer to them
  3. It takes more effort and energy to build relationships with employees that are not physically next to them. This significant additional load of having to make explicit conscious efforts will deter managers from worrying/caring much about remote employees
  • Working from office allows for networking organically. Chance meeting with leaders and/or members of your team or other teams at the proverbial “water cooler”, allows for casual flow of personal and official information which, over time, has potential to connect, build and sustain meaningful relationships. There is something to be said about human dynamism arising from human interaction
  • Much of practical, effective innovation arises from haphazard, unstructured, random interactions of human minds where right problems end up meeting right solutions purely based on probability of them happening. In other words, innovation cannot be scheduled on a zoom call

“Outside” perspective

  • In most cities, people typically spend 1.5 to 3 hours of commute time a day and this “time” gets unlocked when one works from home
  • Commuting to work and back home does not just cost time — for most folks, it costs mental peace. The traffic, the noise, the chaos, the pollution and if one drives to work, the sheer stress of navigating bumper to bumper traffic every day — all of these build up significant stress for many
  • Employees will be able help with chores at home…. Seeing more of their family every day can significantly up the quality of their life
  • Scheduling things such as doctor visit, bank visit, driving license and passport renewal etc become much easier and executing them become efficient
  • More time becomes available for hobbies which again, enhances balance and builds self-worth
  • On the flip side, work does not seem to end — an official or a personal task always needs to get done

So, while work from office improves relationships with team members and builds better team spirit and loyalty to the organization, working from home strengthens relationships with friends and family members and improves efficiency of personal lives.

For roles where decisions are made via discussions and arguments and for roles where work is not broken down to the nth level of detail but is figured out as one goes along, pure “work from home” model will not suit whereas it is perfectly suited if work is broken down clearly and handed off with minimal need for discussion in understanding work requirements. In other words, work from home is not ideal for “agile” methods for work.

Good news is that a hybrid model that involves working from office once or twice a week definitely allows an organization and its employees to take advantage of both these modes — which is what most organizations are moving towards. However those organizations that innovate on the edges of this broad brush (of hybrid model) will be able to retain quality talent for longer and create a definite competitive advantage in the war for talent. An example: an employee may prefer to work from a remote location and for that person to come to office once or twice a week/fortnight may not be possible or convenient — can an organization provide accommodation for employees to spend two days a fortnight in the office location?

Employees clear on long term career goals should take advantage of the opportune segmentation of the employee base that will emerge after this transition.

“If you want a job, you work from home and if you want a career, you work from office.” — a few industry leaders said something to this effect

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Thanks for your time. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that can help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with.

If you wish to reach out or want to know more about me, please check these links:

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