Working from home (WFH) became the norm for thousands (if not millions) of people almost overnight. What was once a “nice to have” benefit, was suddenly enforced upon workers to help control the spread of the new Coronavirus.
While we are not experiencing WFH under normal circumstances, the same challenges exist and it is a polarising subject. Those who love it applaud the flexibility and freedom. Those who loathe it struggle to find focus and motivation. But for some, regardless of how you come to start, the work from home transition is tough and one that induces unease, even anxiety.
James Edmondson shares his experience of joining the new workplace revolution before Covid-19 made it compulsory.
Work from home transition
My first day working from home was planned to coincide with my car’s regular service and it was frankly rather awful. I was up at my normal time, early. But instead of following the regular cadence of activities to get me out of the door, within two minutes of my usual departure time, I naturally got involved with the household routine of getting two toddlers ready for nursery and pre-school. This is when the feeling of anxiety first began to kick in. Although this was all taking place well before 9 am, by coming out of my routine, the feeling of guilt that I should be working began to seep into me.
In an effort to make myself feel better, I logged on to my work laptop and instantly felt the anxiety subside — after all it was still early and according to Lync, I was on line and ‘working’. Boom. But then again, I wasn’t. I was soon walking to the school drop-off and the unease resurfaced, this time stronger. To remedy this, I checked my work phone every five paces, and even managed to reply to an email whilst trying to answer my son’s questions about the way the clouds were blowing. Anxiety temporarily cloaked, but replaced by guilt as I realised I wasn’t being the engaged father and looked like ‘that’ person doing emails whilst walking his child to pre-school.
By the time I had returned home, the ‘normal’ office day had begun and I felt that I had lost all the advantages that I gained by getting up and logging on early. To over compensate for this and the overall feeling that I was ‘working from home’, I started sending people in the office pointless emails and Lync messages. In my mind, the conversations would go like this: “Where’s James?” “Oh, he’s working from home today, but I saw that he’d logged on at 8 am and I’ve already seen a bunch of emails from him.” “Great, so he’s actually working.”
Work from home anxiety
This soundtrack played in my head all day, though I was particularly proud of how I managed to seamlessly make a call to my boss whilst the annual boiler service was taking place in the kitchen (the other reason for me taking a work from home day in the first place). Result.
The feeling of utter relief when the clock struck 5 was palpable; I had made it through the day without anyone phoning up asking me where I was or why I wasn’t at my desk. It was relief that I hadn’t been accused of: “Working. From. Home”.
I hadn’t enjoyed the experience one bit, and in fact the chronic low-level anxiety that resided inside of me throughout the day was awful. Yet, I had been incredibly productive, completing some important work, work that had I had been in my office would probably have taken me three or four days to do.
Adapting to working from home and the new normal
Having the option to work from home in a flexible manner that allows a workforce to fit work around their busy lives is a game-changer and something I believe the working world must embrace as widely as possible. But that’s not a stance I arrived at immediately.
You see, working from home was never really an option for me. From the age of 19 until two years ago, just shy of my 40th Birthday, I was a Naval Officer and spent the majority of my working life at sea or in naval bases. The concept of working from home was alien to me; in my mind it was something writers or artists might do. That all changed when I decided to rejoin the civilian world and the opportunity for flexible working became a reality.
Faced with the option to work from home in my new role I was not quite sure what to make of it. I quite liked going to the office, my morning the routine, engaging with my co-workers, and yes putting on my smart new civilian work clothes.
As an ambitious, now former Naval Officer, I was very focussed on making the right impression and proving to everyone that I would continue on the upwards trajectory that I had left behind in the Forces. To me, that meant getting to the office before anyone else, being impeccably organised and being seen by the leadership.
To put the record straight, the company I work for is excellent and very encouraging of people working from home, probably one of the reasons that it was voted the number one place to work on Glassdoor last year. Moreover, my line manager is incredibly supportive and I am given a high level of autonomy in carrying out my role. So really, all this anxiety about working from home was in my head.
More shocking to me, however, was that my experience exposed my own biases around working from home in general. It dawned on me that this attitude that I had around homeworking was part of the problem. Is it actually people who think like I did who are at the root cause of preventing many organisations from setting up the correct culture that is necessary to get more people working from home?
Nowadays, I am a convert to working from home. I try to do this at least once a fortnight, and to be honest, if we had a better set up at home, I would probably work from home once a week.
For me, the benefits, are obvious: Clearly there is the lack of the commute which saves me time, petrol, reduces my carbon foot print and the chance of getting into an accident. There is also the opportunity to take my children to nursery and school whilst not missing the start of the working day.
But onto the arguably more heavy hitting benefits, such as productivity: As a nation, our level of productivity is significantly lagging behind other industrialised nations, and there are numerous theories as to why this might be. Personally, I find the topic baffling, with a firm belief the lack of productivity is the product of poor leadership and management, resulting in diminished motivation of staff.
My productivity levels are disrupted by a noisy office and interruptions, which is why a day of working from home is (now I no longer feel anxious) a Godsend. I can plough through work without breaking for the impromptu meetings that seem to occur when I am at my desk or get distracted by the harmless tales of dog training or gentle office banter. I also find that this solitude does wonders for my creativity and problem solving, and I have had a number of significant breakthroughs on challenging and complex problems that I can only attribute to the conditions that I found by working from home.
But, more importantly perhaps, I no longer judge people who work from home. This experience means I have completely changed my mind on the whole topic. I no longer subscribe to presenteeism or roll my eyes when I spot an Outlook calendar that blocks off a day with the acronym WFH. I have joined the 21st century and the homeworker revolution; this is the future, and as a senior manager and leader in my organisation, I will champion it wholeheartedly.
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