My team used to appear in the office erratically. With the lockdowns mandated by the recent pandemic, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the practice gave us a marked advantage.
The habit of working from home is not one that comes easily to most people.
The need to socialise, the convenience of walking up to a coworker with a question and the ever watchful eye of hawking bosses have created a modern culture where working from home, despite being trendy and forward, is seen by most organisations as a radical HR experiment at best.
Yet studies have shown that working from home enables deep work, bringing people into a zone where productive, focused work can be achieved, something that is constantly disrupted when they’re in an open office, for example. Working from home has proven to reduce meaningless hours in commute, cut overhead costs and decrease workplace dissatisfaction.
And now Covid-19 has made it mandatory.
Working from home these past few weeks have highlighted certain behaviours that I will be looking out for in future hires, given the future of work, and a few that I will actively be filtering candidates out for.
Here are the top three traits that teams should have for employers to make work from home a time of productive success:
FIND THE WRITERS WHO READ
When working from home, it can sometimes be near impossible to catch people for discussions. Some get lazy with calls, or while you’re waiting for one to get a glass of water, another becomes unresponsive. One way of circumventing such behaviour resulting in loss of productivity is through extensive documentation.
The discipline of extensive yet concise documentation was exemplified by a colleague who was on a short stint with us from a ministry. Given her background, she instinctively documented SOPs from day one, and they couldn’t have been more timely. In contrast, my own team, being used to staying agile and making decisions on the fly, would more often than not skimp on documentation, resulting in knowledge gaps here and there that would run us the risk of making mistakes. With time, it became clear that you not only needed writers, you needed people who would read. People in the organization who had been known to never pick up a book had the same trouble picking up the habit of reading documentation — and that bit them quickly when meetings came round and everyone was (for once!) expected to come prepared, having read all the updates sent beforehand and with new thoughts on the week’s initiatives.
LOOK FOR AN ABILITY TO OVERCOMMUNICATE WHERE NECESSARY
Texting tends to be the communication medium of choice when it comes to working from home, and this gave quite a couple of my colleagues, who were not avid texters to begin with, deep discomfort. Their worry was, on one hand, that they would fail to communicate adequately, causing conflict that’s hard to resolve even through a video call, and that on the other, they would take offence at something that other colleagues might have meant as a friendly jibe. Truth is, deprived of our faculties of reading faces and hearing tone, miscommunications and misunderstandings are bound to happen, no matter how trivial or petty. As such, the trait of being able to over communicate (and know when it would be appropriate to do so) has helped many an adept colleague resolve their differences before it became pronounced.
Such over communication could be as simple as clarifying an intent right after a message, something that would be less necessary in real life. Or it could be as complex using more time (and a thesaurus) in writing a sincere, well-worded email to convey feedback instead of winging it over text. Over time, these little moments in which we make ourselves clear and understand others go a long way in preserving relationships beyond professionalism.
SUPPORT AND REWARD BEHAVIOURS OF COMMITMENT TO SOCIAL CONNECTION
Nothing annoys me more than a colleague who blue ticks me, or drops off a conversation halfway — and yes, it’s bound to happen to the best of us. While there is a certain discipline required in scrolling through chats time and time again to make sure you’ve gotten back to every one that you can, there have been many times that I’ve wished a colleague could have prompted me a little sooner that they were waiting for a reply, instead of passively expecting one. This proactivity also extends to reaching out in order to create social connections virtually. For example, if a colleague suggests doing a digital LALA, it would mean much more if everyone played along and had their lunches in front of the camera. Such bonding experiences become sparse in remote working arrangements, and every reciprocal effort leaves nothing but goodwill and gratitude in its wake. Efforts like this pay off when day-to-day life resumes and we find that our relationships are not worse off for the remote working.
As the future of work trends towards remote working, digital solutions for the human and human solutions for a digital world alike are taking centre stage. What would it be like to live in a world where our relationships at work can extend beyond professional colleagues, where the warmth of a team can develop and genuine care & concern can be nurtured from the comfort of our own homes? The recent pandemic has forced us to find an answer. No matter the solution each of our organisations finds for ourselves, there’s only one thing that we can be certain of — the solution and experience of remote working will endure, and with enough tools to make it happen, proliferate throughout corporate cultures globally to one day become our choice of working arrangement.