Working from home – the new norm!

The French government introduced a new “remote working” law in January 2018 meaning workers had the right to telework and if an employer refused, they had to justify their decision. This law was all about coercing employers into more flexible working practices. But old habits die hard and not much changed, except during periods of travel disruption and if a family member was sick. No one could foresee workplace progress would be imposed by a lightening quick sanitary crisis, catching everyone by surprise! Fast forward May 2020, COVID-19, confinement and working from home for many of us is the new norm!

Work life balance has been a major topic these last few years and the majority of people I speak to are enjoying the confinement: no commuting, cleaner air and less noise (if you are in a built-up area), feeling rested, lunch spent doing some banal household task and general wellbeing. Even if it’s difficult to work with children (especially young children) and manage home schooling, many parents are profiting from the extra family time.

Home working fits better within the knowledge sector, essentially keyboard work. Not all professions (manufacturing, retail, …) can accommodate home working, although this should not be used as an excuse not to apply some flexible policies. Just as homeworking isn’t practical in all businesses, it isn’t practical nor does it suit all employees. Firstly everyone’s personal circumstances are different. Generally those with family have two jobs: the one for which they are paid and the other unpaid that comes with having children. This in turn means rushing from the office to the school/creche before it closes or paying someone else to do it for you… Others may be single, alone, living in a small apartment and finding confinement isolating, solitary and a generally uncomfortable and lonely situation. A recent Kaspersky research group involving 10,500 people across 12 European countries and Japan showed that 75% of people aged up to 25 felt lonely since lockdown compared to 37% of those aged 75 and over. They described the first couple of weeks as being a nice break but the lack of physical contact and structure to daily life difficult to bear.

Like most things in life, home working comes with its benefits but also its challenges for companies, managers and employees. Challenges may be:

  • Technical. Getting to grips with the latest conference call software, computer break down, poor internet connection,…
  • Technology has allowed the possibility of extended working hours! Who hasn’t read an email late in the evening or over the weekend? Since January 2017 French workers have the legal right to disconnect, but not everyone respects this right and not everyone imposes working time discipline upon themselves.
  • Much of our personal communication takes place via telephone and email and home working has encroached into our private space.
  • The extroverts amongst us may find home-working difficult. Energized by interactions, solitary environments can be tedious. Like food, water and oxygen, humans need social contact.
  • The introverted can motivate themselves, but homeworking reinforces the “introverted” character trait, meaning some can become so remote other team members may barely know of their existence!
  • The private home space becomes the professional office, boundaries blurring.
  • Managers too will have to learn how to motivate teams remotely. Some, at the end of the confinement period, will simply want to return to their old ways. 
  • Research has found that creative work is best done face-to-face as opposed to by video.
  • … and for recruitment purposes some of us are better suited to home working than others namely those that can focus and get work done! Motivating yourself can actually be quite a challenge requiring self-discipline! Without the buzz of the office some will simply not translate thoughts into actions, putting off unpleasant tasks, for example. Research shows that of the Big Five Personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) Conscientious types are better at home working. Why? Because they are “reliable and prompt” and character traits include being organized, methodic and thorough.

For effective remote working, businesses will be obliged to reorganize and train massively. Home-working requires new organizational rules. Possibly the future is a balance between part-time remote work and part-time office work (we all need some human social interaction). As some of you will have seen on social media, friends are having virtual aperitifs, I was invited to a virtual quiz, there were 25 of us (some were in UK, some in France and some in Gibraltar, it doesn’t have to be just local, tech opens up the world!)! Transposed to the office there will be virtual coffees, virtual lunch breaks, virtual team building exercises, … Perhaps some of us could co-work in more local offices, there are many serviced offices these days. For something less formal, until confinement, it was common to see people working in cafés. Hot-desking may become a more fashionable word again, home working part-time is an opportunity for businesses concerned to have less square meters of expensive office space. The investment for businesses so workers can work remotely is quite minimal. 

Home Working Tips

  • If you lack self-discipline have a timetable, be organized, set up a routine, have reminders of what needs doing, a draft agenda for the day. Good task management software can help organise your days.
  • Your employer will provide all the technical equipment to work productively from home but it is also important to adapt a proper work space.
  • Working from home means less commuting and for those in cities using public transport results in less exercise! Organise physical exercise.
  • Stay in touch with people. Video calls are not the same as in person meetings but they are quite close. Make a conscious effort not to cut yourself off. In the future employers may organize fixed days when everyone has to be at the office, or a rota of one week at the office per month.
  • Set rules, close the door, to avoid unwanted background noise (loud children, TV, vacuum cleaner, toilet flush, …). 
  • During fixed-times cut out distractions, TV, music, social media, home chores, …
  • Try getting up at your usual time and use your now economised commuter time to do household tasks
  • You can work longer hours, but you don’t have to! Fix limits, timetables, hours, …
  • Look smart during video meetings, being at home isn’t an excuse for shoddy presentation or poor personal hygiene.
  • Learn more about yourself and your working style and adapt it as much as possible to this new working situation.
  • Try the Pomodoro method which crudely means 20 minutes of focused work followed by a 5 minute break. When I looked up an app on my iphone, plenty of suggestions came up: Any.do, Be Focused, Plantie, Flat Tomato, Egggzy, Focus-to-do, …there are many technical solutions to help us work more efficiently
  • Finally, you can also seek help from your HR department. Most HR professionals are working on the subject for you as well as learning home-working on-the-job just like everyone else. We are many discovering new working methods.

*     *    *

Many of us have realized we can work just as well from home as from the office. Covid may well be with us for a while so with time will working from home become more universally accepted? To this, we have no answer, but I personally doubt we can return to our former ways, at least not totally. The arrival of Covid will surely be recognized in the future as a propellant to major change in the work place.

Every cloud (however dark) has a silver lining!

Written by Lynda Petit, a French-British recruitment consultant with 20 years experience, CIPD qualified, member of ANDRH, operating in France.

Comments are closed.