Management Work From Home

Hybrid work is doomed to fail

More and more companies are pushing for hybrid work models, this model is doomed to fail.  Hybrid models are being touted as a great way to get “face-to-face” with your coworkers and collaborate more effectively.  What hybrid work models are in actuality is a disruption to workflow and added stress to workers.

Face-to-face is more productive

The myth that face-to-face meetings are more productive is a major augment being made for hybrid or return to office work.  With software like Slack, Teams, and Google Docs workers can collaborate from anywhere, and it has the added benefit of being documented for everyone to see, not just the ones doing the collaboration.

Some examples from my personal experience.  When my office transitioned to work from home (WFM) in March of 2020 we set up a group chat in Teams.  This group chat is used daily and has led to greater collaboration and knowledge sharing than we ever had in the office.  When we were in the office, if I had a problem I would lean over to my coworker and ask for the solution, then I would be the only one to have benefited from that knowledge.  Now that we have the group chat I post my issue there and when one person responds everyone on the team can see that information and gain knowledge.

There have also been times when one person will ask for help and multiple people will respond and someone who thought they had the more efficient method finds out a coworker actually has a far more efficient method.  Again while in the office that person would have never found out a more efficient method existed because the interaction would have been one-on-one not collaborative.

We’ve also had new hires join our team since transitioning to WFH and training them has been easier since they are not relying solely on the person next to them to teach them.  Now when a new member is added to our team we add them to our group chat and tell them to ask for help there.  Now that person has the benefit of the entire team’s knowledge at their fingertips.

Another benefit has been in our team meetings.  When we were in the office our supervisor would have to leave her desk and come over to us to give her daily announcements.  She would have to do this quickly because she needed to get back to her desk to handle issues that needed her immediate attention.  So we would all stop working and turn away from our computers to face her, she would quickly go over the announcements, then we would turn back to our computers and focus on our work.

Now we have our meetings on teams.  So we can have audio only meetings that allow us to hear the announcements while continuing to get our work done.  And when an issue arises that our supervisor needs to handle she can handle it during the meeting, because she’s sitting in front of her computer, and we will chat amongst ourselves.  We’ve all learned more about each other during those meetings due to being able to idly chat while continuing to work than we ever did during our quick meetings in the office.  Not only have we learned more about each other  since transitioning to WFH and having meetings like this but we’ve grown closer and have gone from mere coworkers to friends.

Disruption to workflow

Another issue that arises from hybrid models is a disruption to workflow.  Being able to have your desk setup for your workflow is important for efficiency and employee happiness.  Having to go back and forth between two setups will lead to less efficient and less happy workers.  This is exacerbated by utilizing “hot swap workstations”.  Hot swapping workstations means not only is the employee moving between two different desk setups, but now they are unable to configure the office workstation for their needs, which leads to even more productivity loss, and less happiness for the employee.  All this has a compounding effect and will lead to lower employee morale because they will feel their employer is hurting their ability to do their work and they may face punishment as a result.

Again I will pull from personal experience.  After my office transitioned to WFH it became clear we weren’t going back right away.  I then decided to start optimizing my home workspace for my workflow. I bought a desk, a good office chair (I have lower back issues), an ergonomic keyboard and wireless mouse, and two large monitors that allow me to see all my work unlike the smaller monitors that I was sent home with. 

I also have to constantly reference some documents during the course of my work, they are available within our online shared documents folder but in the time it takes to locate and load the document I can reference the paper copy on my desk and be on to the next task.  If I have to move between home and office I either have to make copies of those documents and make sure they remain up to date, and that I don’t lose any of them during the constant moving back and forth.  Or I have to hurt my productivity by using the slower method of finding and loading the online copies every time I need to reference them.

There is also the fact that moving my computer is a challenge.  Right now I’m working from a desktop computer, so there are multiple cords that I would have to keep track of, and the power cord is plugged into an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) hidden behind the corner support of my desk.  So every time I have to go into the office I have to crawl under my desk to unplug the power cord and again when I have to plug it back in for my time working from home.  Now I understand switching to a laptop and using a docking station would alleviate this issue, but at the time of writing there is a chip shortage and buying laptops en masse is not feasible, even for large corporations.

Another consideration that should be taken into account is the wear and tear on the computer’s ports.  Constantly plugging and unplugging monitors, keyboards and mice will lead to higher rates of damage to the ports.  This is a longer term added cost, when ports fail the computer will have to be sent in for repair or depending on the age of the computer, replacement.  By leaving a computer plugged in where it’s at you reduce the chance of ports failing and can extend the life of the hardware thereby limiting ongoing costs associated with repair and replacement.

Without the office how will we maintain our corporate culture?

Maintaining corporate culture is being touted as another reason to bring workers back to the office.  Culture is built by individuals coming together to build that culture, it’s not a place, it’s a state of being.  When a group of Indians emigrate from India to the United States they come together in communities and form an blended culture, this isn’t the American government telling them how to behave, it’s leaders within the community leading by example and building cultural norms.

If a company relies on their office to define their culture then they have no culture.  What companies need is strong leaders to define the culture regardless of the location of their employees.  This doesn’t mean putting a boss in charge of a group who will tell employees “this is how you are to act”, this means putting leaders in charge who will inspire employees to want to be a part of the culture.  For more on the differences of bosses and leaders see my post titled Boss v. Leader.

The old switcheroo

Let’s say after a lot of time and consideration management decides productivity isn’t being hurt by WFH and costs are down, so it’s time to accept WFH is here to stay.  So management holds a company wide meeting and tells employees that they have decided that WFH is here to stay and they will be permanently WFH.  Great, employees are happy and the company can focus on shifting resources to support WFH workers rather than office workers.

Then six months later management changes their mind and holds another meeting and tells employees that the company is going to a hybrid model and they will have to do a certain amount of days in the office every week.  Employees will start to not trust what management tells them, and come to decide that they can not work for a company that they can not trust.  What management has done is hurt their future power.  For more on future power please see my post titled The only power is future power.

A further way to erode employee trust and hurt your future power is to require employees to sign contracts stating that they understand and agree with this sudden change.  The effect this has on employees is increasing mistrust of management, and lowering morale because now employees feel management does not trust them.  Again management has hurt their future power with their employees.

Employees need to see each other to build teams.

Webcams.

Conclusion

Companies and their management teams have to rewire their brains to understand that Work From Home is the new normal.  Employees can be just as productive or more productive working from home.  Not only can employees be productive but their happiness and morale is increased, leading to more loyal employees, and lower onboarding costs due to turnover.

Companies and management teams who don’t embrace WFH and continue to push hybrid models or full return to office will start to see a “brain drain” as employees start to leave for companies that guarantee full WFH options.  As I stated in my post titled The case for continuing work from home “Work from home is here to stay, employers who embrace it and use it effectively will survive and possibly thrive”.

Resources

Remote work is having a moment, but the future isn’t hybrid – by Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab

State of remote work – a study by OwlLabs which found that 77% of respondents would like to continue WFH after the covid-19 pandemic.

FlexJobs Survey Finds 58% Of People Working Remotely Would Quit Their Jobs If Required To Return To Office

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