The Trials, Tribulations, and Future of Working from Home
There are going to be permanent changes post pandemic, and here is my prediction: a future job interviewer will ask you the question, “How well do you work from home?” Companies who realize the benefits (like jettisoning that high office rent), with an eye on the worst-case scenario (the next “100-year” pandemic coming in five or ten), are going to ask prospective employees how things went during this pandemic. As I look out, I see those who will be able to answer positively and those … well, not so much. I definitely understand both sides.
The Trials and Tribulations
I’ve worked from home since 2012, and while I have appreciated the benefits, personally and professionally, there are certainly challenges. Still, my thought has always been it’s not for everyone. For one thing, you never leave the office. At 8pm I often go to “just check my email,” and four hours later I’m still at it. It’s hard to turn it off, especially when you’re engaged and vested in your work.
Staying focused can be challenging. Drawn into my very real home-world, I’m obsessed with making sure the laundry is done even if the rest of the house looks like a bomb hit it. And then there are the interruptions. We were having the roof of our back patio replaced, when I suddenly heard this excruciatingly loud crash. And yup – I was on a call with a client. It turns out the neighbor was having a tree cut down, which was a better scenario than the one I thought of: workers falling through my roof, breaking furniture and limbs.
Through the meetings and calls, we’re all still dealing with the spouse, the kids, the UPS delivery person… and pets. When we next Zoom, I hope you’ll forgive my cat, who insists on lounging on my desk, randomly meowing. I talk regularly to U.S. HealthTek’s Cristy Reiter, who has five dogs; when they hear my cat, it sets them off barking, temporarily grinding our conversation to a halt. We’ve all experienced that Zoom call that has gone awry – perhaps the most famous is the Very Serious Professor Robert Kelly talking about South Korea on the BBC while his curious toddler wanders in. But through all those examples, even the BBC interview, we tend to forgive the high jinks that inevitably happens because we’ve all had our own versions of it.
Some people love working from home, but for others, especially us more social people, it’s harder. My husband likes to say I can have a conversation with a tree. (Sure, I talk to my cat, but that tends to be one-sided.) Skyping with my coworkers helps, but I also recommend scheduling a lunch or a walk with a friend for some person-to-person interaction. For me personally, now that small numbers of people are allowed to bowl, being able to indulge in my favorite hobby is something that’s been really helpful to my sanity!
Best of Both Worlds?
While those trials and tribulations have required some adjustments (and a good sense of humor), there are clear positives from working this way, too. U.S. HeathTek founder Bryan Firestone has been an advocate for working from home for decades – it’s how he’s structured our company. Not having the expensive overhead of a permanent office space allows us to offer services and products at a better value to my clients. We can also hire with little regard to geography, which allows for a larger pool of talent. Bryan has always believed that workers are more productive at home, and in spite of all the challenges, it’s certainly been the case for me.
So what are the benefits from working from home? This has increasingly been written about, as in this New York Times article that breaks it down this way:
- Less time on the road, which is better for the employee and the environment.
- Greater productivity. One study from 2014 says employees can be up to 13 percent more productive. (Bryan would say that percentage is higher.)
- Fewer sick days. This is particularly important during these times, but beyond COVID-19, you’re safer from the common cold or flu.
- Healthier employees. Why? Those who work from home tend to fit in more time at the gym, and experience fewer stressors overall (like not dealing with that rush-hour commute).
It must be said that there are some workers in general, and many specific to our industry (lab workers, front-line healthcare workers, etc.), that don’t get the option of even considering working from home. And there are some people for whom working from home just doesn’t work. They have trouble drawing those lines, or maybe they need in-person interaction to keep them engaged and connected. At that future job interview, be comfortable saying that.
That Future Job Interview
Working from home will be part of the overall work landscape to come. There is a growing consensus that the future could hold a hybrid combination of the two scenarios. Again from that New York Times article:
Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, predicted that workers will be looking for the “happy medium,” splitting time between remote work and showing up at the office. The hope is that the pandemic will have shown managers that workers can be trusted to do their jobs without constant supervision. “Any kind of flexibility is something that people are really, really ripe for, just some control over where and when they work,” she said.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of loving it or hating it, working outside a traditional office is here to stay for many of us. We’ve all experienced the good and the bad at this point, but how we approach and adapt to those two ends of the spectrum will influence future positions and impacts the job we’re doing today. At the end of the day I adapted, kept the bigger picture in mind, and focused on moving through it and getting back into the flow.
Now excuse me while I push my cat off my chair and get ready for this next Zoom call….