min read

Three reasons I am not working from home

I think many are exaggerating the ‘new normal’ and the changing role of the workplace post Covid19.

I’m an introvert- I don’t just enjoy being alone- I need alone time to recharge. In terms of work, I like to spend most of my time in my own headspace. I’m best at big picture thinking and as a result, I’m terrible at task-oriented work. I either do my own work in my own time- or I delegate it completely. I prefer to get input from others as data so I can think about it and come to my own conclusions. Anything that requires actual collaboration or conversation I prefer in a text chat channel.

So I should love working from home, right? Well, actually I hate it- and have no intention of ever working from home.

I think many are exaggerating the ‘new normal’ and the changing role of the workplace post Covid19. I’m all for not having any hard rules on how, when, and where employees must work. But adopting a working from home policy is a monolithic approach compared to Activity Based Working (and no, I don’t mean hot desking). We cannot implement a blanket HR policy for all workers, tasks, and business activities.

Companies are jumping on the PR opportunity to say employees can work from home forever. For tech companies, in particular, I’m surprised they even have to make this statement. Did they even force their employees to work from the office in the first place? If you can, want to, and are successful at working from home- then do it. But let’s look at a few reasons the workplace is still important.

1. The workplace is designed for the job

Activity Based Working is about providing the right space for the job at hand. Select the right tool from the toolbox when you need it. Today, most employment is knowledge work- and this is where we need an entire catalog of spaces to match the different work styles, personalities, and employee demographics in your organization. While also allowing for the productivity work that is still part of the knowledge workers’ day. A single desk or space cannot tick all these boxes for a single employee- let alone the entire workforce.

It’s likely that your workplace takes this pretty seriously and has hired consultants, interior designers, architects, and technologists to work out what you need to produce your best work. How much thought have you put into your home office? And what impact does working from home have on the original purpose of your home- living, relaxing, and connecting with family?

This was the point that I struggled with the most while trying to work from home.

It took years to learn not to take my work home with me. And for a tech professional- this included purposely having very little technology in my house. Then suddenly, my work was literally on my dining room table. I ended up working longer hours, not switching off, getting poor quality sleep, and feeling stressed. I didn’t last long and went back to the office. Fortunately, I had that option- and I understand many still do not.

I became very aware that even in my small office I use different spaces for different activities. My desk was for typing, the lounge was for reading research papers, my whiteboard was for process mapping, the cafe was for responding to emails, etc. These are work habits that are developed over decades and connected to space. We cannot be consistent or let our autopilot take over without habits.

2. Even extreme introverts are still human…

Humans are incredibly social. One thing that has surprised me over the last six months is just how much I miss groups of people. I may be introverted, but I still need social interaction for my sanity. And like a lot of us- I get most of my social interaction from work. Without social interaction, many work tasks are becoming increasingly difficult.

How do I sell anything to anyone without buying them a beer for example?

I’m still struggling with that one. Internally, I would get a ‘feel’ for what everyone is up to and how things are going from incidental social interactions. Running into someone at our local cafe, walking out to the car park at the same time, hanging out in the kitchen, and, of course, Friday work drinks. It’s a lot more work and formal process to manage a team without this.

I’ve also noticed meetings are much more formal when performed in a web conference. There is less incidental chat as there is more of a spotlight on whoever is speaking. Most importantly, I’m finding my dumb jokes just don’t land over web conference- I’m much more humorous in person. Sarcasm without body language over a slow connection can come across quite dark.

3. Memory, experiences, and life perspective

What sort of life are we living if we never leave the home? My best memories are attached to physical spaces and travel. And that includes workplaces. Having an office in the city makes you feel part of that city. No matter how much I travel or where I live- I feel very much a part of Sydney because I’ve worked in so many parts of it- including the Sydney Opera House. This need to connect to a community is as human as the need for social interactions.

My first professional job was at the University of Sydney, and the physical campus was a huge part of the culture and heart of the University for students and staff. There was a saying that if you haven’t started studying by the time the jacaranda tree bloomed in the Quadrangle- you would fail your exams. Zoom doesn’t give you nice little physical connections like that.

We do better if we are connected to something bigger than ourselves- like buildings that will be around long after we’re gone, and a city culture we help define by being part of it.

These are just my reasons. If you think about all the different types of people in your workplace- try to think of the reasons they might not enjoy working from home. For example, young people might live in a share-house or studio and simply not have space.

Maybe there is something about the idea of working from home that sounds appealing- like the excitement of getting a day off at school for an unexpected reason. But in reality, we like going to work. The work itself gives us purpose and the workplace gives us social interactions and a connection to the broader community. Logistically, the workplace gives us the space we need for the job we are trying to perform- designed by experts. And finally, the workplace has better coffee than what I can make with my french press at home.

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