Work from Home (WFH) is the talk of the town now thanks to COVID-19, Even the kids have seen their parents sitting in front of their laptops for hours together since lockdown. Let us first consider the positive impact. With WFH people escaped from traffic woes, got the flexibility to choose their work hours, and able to spend a lot of time with family also.
Now some organizations in both India and abroad are talking about doing away with offices itself or switching to work from home only. Recently one personal care company’s top executive said that they will close down the corporate office and go for 100% WFH! Going by tempting cost benefits to business probably we are not going back to pre-COVID situation whatever may be the % of WFH adaption. But can it go to the extent of doing away with offices? It looks like extreme!
Let us analyze the consequences of such an extreme scenario. Rolling back my memory by a few months I was reminiscing about some popular “scenes” which we have seen at the IT office campus. These are pretty much familiar to us and we have experienced it all the time.
A typical day of a Project Manager
The project manager has a review meeting with US client today evening and he wants to have a status check early by morning. They walk to the office conference room and get started with some people also dialing in. As the manager goes over the health of the project with members are chipping in with updates and suggestions. They wind up after the formal meeting and get back to their seats with new action points and some course corrections. Team lead nudges the colleagues for a quick coffee and they continue their discussion around the deliverables in a coffee shop as well nicely enjoying the environment. Not everyone is fortunate to have a huge campus, but even an office terrace hangout provides a relaxing atmosphere. They come back after a quick break fully charged and sprint towards their desks. These informal brainstorm sessions continue a few times a day through lunch and another post-lunch coffee too as the ideas shape up. The manager is satisfied with the progress post his second review of the day as he walks out of the conference room and gets ready for the client meeting.
In-person interactions and office environment immensely help to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and motivate collaboration. By each passing day, mutual understanding only gets better and the team knows how to resolve the disagreements and conflicts. Eventually, team chemistry plays a great role in shaping the quality of the project.
Catch ups at the coffee shop
Office Cafeteria is just not a place to have some great coffee. A lot of good things happen there. Software Engineer-X was heading for coffee as usual just to take time off from a hectic schedule. He bumps into a friend who joined with him a few months back but with a different business unit. Both of them attended the training together so they can relate to each other. As they grab the coffee both mull over the fun events at the time of joining and also discuss everything under the sun. Chat quickly jumps to the technical side, both of them share their learnings, present their challenges, and end up getting ideas for solving their current project issues as well. Hundreds of such meet-ups keep happening and colleagues brainstorm and add value to each other. Such connects could have happened between total strangers as well in a company bus, library, food court, parking lot, etc. creating numerous opportunities to contribute to each other and learn. These meet-ups end up shaping up their thought process.
The above scenes at the office demonstrate bonding and mutual value addition. The office is not merely a place made of some buildings which enable work, rather it creates a vibrant community where people emotionally connect with each and other, share the culture, have fun and produce value for their customers. Quite often friendship extends beyond the office and helps in resolving personal challenges as well.
People challenges can surface @ digitally connected Home Offices!
Yes, digital technologies like Video conferencing, chat apps, etc., will help people to collaborate and deliver. But what about people to people connect? Here are a few points to ponder!
- Can we build teams through only Zoom meets only?: Cohesive team is a must to produce the best results in today’s complex and competitive business environment. An effective team has ingredients like strong leadership, complementary skillsets, awareness of strengths and weaknesses, timely conflict resolution, etc. Team building doesn’t happen overnight and it happens over the period through sustained networking both formal and informal means. Face to face meetings/associations would always cement the team bonding. The time-bound check-in and check-out “Zoom” calls can help to complete a project target, will it help to build cohesive and durable teams which is essential for going beyond stated needs?
- A good company provides employees a conducive environment that enables them to learn from both systems/processes and competitive colleagues. High Networking Quotient (NQ) is essential for professional and personal growth beyond meeting project/business deliverables. E-learning and webinars surely enhance learning, but can it substitute the vibrance of face to face connect with colleagues?
- How much easy for an organization to align its employees to its culture?: If you hire people across multiple locations in work from anywhere model, how do induct people to your company’s culture? Are remote Induction and some online lectures good enough for people to imbibe the culture and align with the ethos of the company? Can the employee touch and feel the organization? If they don’t relate to the company, they can be easily detached leading to loss of stickiness.
- Productivity challenges: People indeed experience better productivity due to saving of commute time, working in own pace without interruptions, etc. Can it be sustained given the fact that working in isolation for a long time might lead to boredom and stress in the long run? However, the impact can be ascertained only after a prolonged observation.
The hybrid model (Mix of office + WFH) may be best suited given the above challenges instead of extreme WFH. I think it would be a transformation of sorts If we can take advantage of greater flexibility offered by WFH by retaining the Touch and Feel of traditional Office.
However, we will get to know about the actual level of home office adaption, impact, and benefits only during post-pandemic normal days.
Last but not the least, people management practices need to gear up in terms of newer ways and channels of people engagement, training/alignment for remote working, and innovate communication techniques as WFH become part and parcel of business whatever may be the level of adaption.