Making business sense of WFH
Many of our clients and suppliers are working from home a day or two a week and that’s creating demand from our team to follow suit. We’re a small business looking to get back on track after...
many of our clients and suppliers are working from home a day or two a week and that’s creating demand from our team to follow suit. we’re a small business looking to get back on track after the significant impact of lockdown and, for me right now, that means everyone in the office focused on delivering results together.
i hear the call for more working from home (wfh) and understand the wellbeing benefits for individuals such as reduced commute stress and more time for family. i want these too but i’m struggling to balance these benefits with a business roi. i know it makes sense for some other businesses but, at this point, the business case for increased wfh just doesn’t stack up for me.
don’t get me wrong, i enjoy working from home, especially when i need quiet uninterrupted headspace to nut out something important. we’ve had a wfh policy as part of our wider wellbeing programme for over four years now. it allows for occasional and planned wfh to get specific things done and to help balance home obligations.
while most of the team are happy with, and are increasingly taking advantage of, the current policy, a number would like to see a more permanent, fixed days, arrangement. the argument for increased wfh is largely about happier staff who are more productive and loyal. i support this in theory. however, i just can’t see how this is achieved in practice.
my experience and readings tell me that for short periods working from home can be very rewarding and productive. but over the longer term, it has more distractions, often means working on inferior equipment, having less collaboration opportunities, and missing out on the benefit of ambient information. research indicates that these factors lead to individuals feeling less connected with their team and the company as a whole – not more productive or loyal.
lockdown showed us there are ways to manage many of these challenges when you have to. we worked really hard to make sure everyone was as productive as they could be and felt engaged and connected with the company. along with perfecting zoom and teams we introduced ted style talks, virtual drinks and ‘quiz nights’ and more cross-team projects. this focus takes effort which is easier to sustain when everyone, including your clients, are in the same boat and you know it’s temporary.
being in the office is much less hard work. everything everyone needs to do their job is right there. the emotional connection with the work, each other and with clients forms more naturally.
when someone works from home, everyone else assumes they have a pending deadline, a home situation to deal with, or they are feeling unwell and don’t want to spread germs. the natural tendency is therefore not to contact them and to defer work until they are back. this has a direct impact on productivity. with many working from home, important tasks and issues can get deferred for days until everyone is back in the office. addressing this requires a cultural shift to ensure people understand that wfh means you are still working and available to engage. but if we achieve this shift, constant interruptions will quickly erode the real benefit of wfh.
and then there’s the impact on those at work. there are some people who can’t or just don’t want to wfh. it’s these people, always in the office, who have to pick up the slack when unexpected work comes in, when there are urgent situations, or where compromise is required. this builds feelings of inequity, with potentially negative impacts on their wellbeing, loyalty and productivity. we are seeing some of this already with our current arrangements.
our business thrives on ideas and delivering successful team projects. to me that equates to working together, sharing ideas and supporting each other to achieve the results. i dislike how the office feels when a significant number of people are out. the space lacks a dynamic energy and that sense of a creative team working together. this doesn’t inspire my best work and surely reflects negatively when clients visit.
of course there is the health and safety aspect that must be considered. we can’t contract out of our responsibilities for the team’s wellbeing but we definitely don’t want to ‘baby proof’ each individual’s home work space. ours is desk and screen based work, where poor practices leave people open to rsi and eye issues. for ad hoc wfh, taking your laptop home and working on the dining table is fine. for anything more permanent, we’d need to invest in home desks, chairs, screens and other equipment and that has a significant cost.
these additional costs may be ok if you can reduce your office space requirements and associated rent but for many of us, locked in long-term leases, this isn’t an option.
the biggest wfh challenge for me is building and maintaining culture. we already run two offices which has its own cultural challenges. we’ve worked hard to build a shared team-based culture driven by our values. i’d like to think we’re a family, there for each other. it’s so much harder to maintain this when you limit your ability to interact, bond or even have everyone in the same room at the same time. teams, zoom, and email are great functional tools but they don’t foster the same personal connection that regular and informal face-to-face allows.
i know these are challenges many of our clients are also grappling with. we’re working with a number of them to revisit their internal communication platforms and policies in order to build more engagement, interaction, and connection. fostering both real and digital social connections becomes a big focus in their new communication approach.
for those who aren’t considering it already, think about how your next staff engagement survey can be adapted to measure the impact of staff having less direct engagement with the business. having only 50% or so of staff in the office at any one time may require a significant cultural shift, moving to something more aligned with a remote workforce.
for now, we’re sticking with our current wfh approach but being increasingly more flexible and open with how we apply it. i have no doubt that we will move further down the wfh spectrum so i’m not fighting it, just actively looking for ways to make the argument more favourable for the business. in preparation for when we get there, we’re starting to rethink culture and team communications to support the new way of being that wfh brings.wfh, working from home, business culture, productivity
Wellbeing - the new lens on business performance?
On the very same day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent for the telephone in Washington D.C., Elisha Gray filed his in Illinois. And a few years later, Briton Joseph Swan and American Thomas Edison...
on the very same day in 1876 that alexander graham bell filed his patent for the telephone in washington d.c., elisha gray filed his in illinois. and a few years later, briton joseph swan and american thomas edison independently patented the light bulb.
whether you put this down to synchronicity of consciousness or the fact that nothing lives in isolation long before parallel schools of thought arise, the result is fertile compost for similar ideas to manifest in slightly different ways.
our government has enshrined the notion of wellbeing through the living standards framework amongst other initiatives, and a new language that speaks to the ‘soft’ values of ‘purpose, balance and meaning.’ it’s the newest and broadest measure of roi. and government now expects these principles to be evident in all its agencies’ and ministries’ ways of going about their daily business. we’re now ‘woke’ to this ‘kinder’ way of living our lives.
interesting, too, that the dimension of time is part of the vernacular, with frequent references in government frameworks to ‘future wellbeing’ and ‘intergeneration outcomes’.
but it’s not just our government. wellbeing is now a thing in the workplace, the home, everywhere you look now in one form or other. consumers and investors are actively choosing companies looking after the wellbeing of their wider ecosystem. employees are looking for employers with social-conscience and a wider purpose beyond the numbers.
like edison’s lightbulb, random threads have become woven together from all sorts of sources and schools of thought to make wellbeing the thing it has become. a zeitgeist moment in our species’ evolution perhaps?
what we see in the governance of society is no different from the context in which it thrives.
parallels in corporate-land
the language may be different but the similarities are more than discernible. business is becoming more aware of its broader responsibilities too.
ever since the world flirted with ‘triple-bottom-line’ performance reporting, the gamut of what’s important for corporate behaviour has been ever-widening. sustainability reporting started with a prime environmental focus that became dominated by climate change as that threat became more prominent. then the dots started to join. some of us liked the wider definition of sustainability that included people, planet and profit. and then investors started joining the dots too - wanting to know about the longer term ramifications for companies they were putting money into. esg reporting (environmental, social, governance) became that audience’s self-interested wellbeing lens on much the same subject matter.
this was merely the reporting end of enlightened companies reframing their outlooks on corporate responsibility. it’s actually the thinking and caring that counts.
and then, the most holistic framework of them all – integrated reporting – appeared in 2013 and has grown and matured over the years to become recognised as the most encompassing, inclusive of all the other schools, and with the added elements of shared value creation over the long term, and asking for transparency around the impacts on the very capitals that a company employs in the first place (human, natural, social, manufactured, intellectual and financial).
meanwhile, over in the kitchen at the united nations, the cooks were brewing up the un sustainable development goals.
the threads were being interwoven.
bringing it all together
all of these developments are really a maturing and sophistication of the same principle – that long term wellbeing and prosperity come from looking after all aspects of life.
they all care about what’s best for people, minimising harm to the world that nurtures us, and the glue of social systems and relationships that hold it all together. and they recognise that finance is the oil that lubricates the wheels. all creating a future that’s sustainable and perpetual.
for canny business and savvy investors, it’s about more than just doing the right thing. they have come to learn that it’s also wise business in the long term. there’s more new language afoot: ‘non-financial’ factors are now being termed ‘pre-financial’. a lack of focus on wellbeing factors like exploited employees, unheeded communities or depleted natural resources will eventually impact financial viability.
whatever the motivation, surely the common destiny justifies? a win/win/win?
whatever your motivation, at least you’re swimming with the tide. all the threads are coming together, whether you use the language of government, business, society or simply being human.
the more i work with integrated reporting, the more the principle of taking a holistic view of the wellbeing of your entire ecosystem resonates. we’ve seen numerous entities get to grips with integrated thinking in their organisations and helped them connect how all these aspects of their corporate wellbeing drive current and future performance. once cracked, the clarity, simplicity and elegant seamlessness that results from integrated thinking is awesome to behold. it’s a powerful blueprint for any human endeavour – not just business or government agencies.
balance. harmony. forces of good.
personal, business and social wellbeing is a movement whose time has come. i wonder whether edison and bell would recognise this as recombinant conceptualisation, groupthink or just blame the ubiquity of the internet.wellbeing, living standards framework, integrated thinking, integrated reporting