Working From Home is Great, but Something is Missing

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Austin Hale
Austin Hale
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With COVID-19 throwing our entire world (literally) for a very-much-unanticipated loop, all indications are showing that working from home is here to stay, at least in some form. Tech behemoths like Twitter, Square, and even Facebook have in recent months announced plans to allow employees to continue to work from home even after the Coronavirus pandemic is behind us.

Prior to COVID-19, many companies, including those listed above, were hesitant to make the jump to large-scale work from home for one reason: productivity. Eight months after being forced to make the switch and we’re beginning to realize that instead of being less productive, the opposite has happened. We’re working from makeshift home offices, garages, and unfinished basements and our work has gotten better.

So if we’re more productive from home, shouldn’t everyone telecommute for good? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The added productivity would be great if working meant just absentmindedly checking off to-do list items hour after hour, day after day. Luckily for everyone, work is much more than that; and slowly but surely, employees everywhere are realizing there’s something missing.

In a recent New York Times article, writer Clive Thompson put it this way: “The truth, as I heard from many of the newly remote workers I interviewed, is that as much as our offices can be inefficient, productivity-killing spreaders of infectious disease, a lot of people are desperate to get back to them.”

But, why?

Collaborative Work

In a recent study conducted by DropBox executives, Jen DiZio and Amanda Miller, who conducted the study, discovered that although WFH can boost productivity, people are feeling blocked by the lack of human connection they are accustomed to in the office. And despite entrepreneurs and tech companies best efforts, the tools that have emerged to facilitate remote work aren’t doing enough to break through the collaboration dam.

In fact, in the same study, DiZio and Miller found that 41% or workers feel that existing tools fall short of enabling spontaneous synchronous ways of working - a problem that will only be exacerbated the longer we stay out of the office.

Without opportunities to collaborate and build trust with our coworkers, it becomes near impossible for us to feel like our work is making an impact; which in turn leads to the two words employer’s hate to hear: workplace dissatisfaction.

The question employers should then be asking is: “What tools are available to facilitate collaboration between my employees?” Or perhaps even better: “How can I safely get my employees back into the office on a limited basis so they can continually collaborate and build trust with one another?”

Bursting The Bubble

The shift from being in an office to working from home, almost overnight, put all of us in personal workspace bubbles. Bubbles that many of us don’t like and didn’t choose.

One of the biggest reasons offices work is because it puts everyone in the same place. Designers, developers, salesmen & women, copywriters, executives, and interns all work on their own projects while being just steps away from each other.

OK, but what’s so important about that? Well for starters, it means that creative solutions to problems can come from anywhere, not just direct teammates. Often some of the most innovative solutions to internal issues are results of breakroom chit-chat or interdepartmental lunches. These types of spontaneous interactions can be hard, if not impossible, to replicate in Zoom meetings or Slack channels.

Throughout the lockdown, our work bubbles have become increasingly smaller and more opaque. The best solution to which seems to be a return to shared physical space (a.k.a. the office).

Training

After extensive talks with CEOs about their WFH initiatives, Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, recognized a common complaint amongst them: Without in-person collaboration, many financial services companies will have trouble recruiting and training young workers.

“They’ve got young people for whom being in the mix and seeing how senior bankers behave hass been a critical part of learning the business. It’s a real loss not to have them be able to be part of that,” Wylde says.

This isn’t just a problem for financial services companies, however. It’s one that any company who, prior to COVID-19, had not implemented widespread WFH policies and are now struggling to implement effective train-from-home solutions. Without the in-person ability to walk new employees through proprietary systems, software tools, and proper protocol, businesses are scrambling to get new hires up to speed quickly and efficiently.

Many companies are choosing to turn to software tools, like Tactic, to get back into their offices safely and restore their face-to-face training programs, ensuring that new hires feel comfortable in their roles.

In Conclusion

A return to the office isn’t without risk. After all, the Coronavirus pandemic is nowhere close to being “over”, whatever that means. However, indefinitely telecommuting brings its own risks and challenges that businesses need to confront and plan for if they hope to keep their employees happy and their products thriving.


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