There is a lot passion, opinions and pros and cons on the subject of WFH.
There is a genuine claim that productivity has increased, as people have more time to dedicate to their tasks, as they do not waste time on long journeys back and forth to work.
Some say, no, that is not the reason, the productivity increase during Covid-19 was due to people being afraid of losing their jobs and that fear-based productivity isn’t sustainable.
We now have companies making savings in real estate to their P&L and some passing part of such to the compensation of the employees who WFH.
I see that some managers feel very uncomfortable with WFH, and it seems that they believe that tight oversight and control are fundamental for the tasks to be delivered.
When I worked in Europe, 10 years ago, we adopted the option of WFH or from a more convenient location closer to home. This helped many employees who had mobility issues and found commuting to London everyday difficult. Finding a nearby company office or branch where they could work improved their well-being and productivity. The same option was also welcomed by parents with young children and others who had elderly dependents at home. On top of that we made mandatory for non-customer facing jobs at the HQ to work one day a week at home.
The above measures saved more than GBP 12m in one year, with no damage to productivity that resulted in increasing moral and commitment. Yes, I had a boss that was not happy at all, and tried very hard to reverse such decisions, but failed in the end, as when he arrived it was already common practice. But I am sure that he was not happy with me or my team.
I guess that having the opportunity to regularly meet other employees at a central location is important for tasks that demand creativity and open debate. Also, holding meetings at offices, has been proven to be less exhaustive than similar video calls. An office meeting tends to be less stressful, as you can stand up, get a coffee, as one talks, you can check notes, as well as read body language of other participants. While in a video call you have to be 100% focus on the speaker despite of potential distractions such as technology problems and communications issues.
I believe that when employees buy the goal of a company, and feel part of the means to deliver it, perceiving recognition and rewards as consequence, they tend to be much more engaged, creative and participative. Because of these positive benefits, I defend a mix of WFH and face-to-face interactions to enable creativity and engagement that drives the best attitude. We will always have people that cannot engage or be responsible, that is another issue and solution.
Activities that do not require creativity that have repetitive tasks, following a strict process do not necessarily need to be performed in a collective location. In such cases WFH can be much more effective. Certain activities such as training, team-building and celebrations should be face-to-face whenever possible.
Some people are saying that some of these repetitive tasks or jobs will be totally absorbed by AI driven solutions. Here again I would not be so extreme. Some will be absorbed, but either for the need for engagement with other human beings or due to some nuances of a particular task, we will always have jobs done by human beings.
There are other aspects to be considered, such as promotions where people tend to think of those that they remember. Some sort of interactions, either in a mix of WFH and face-to-face, or periodical training and celebrations, are needed. Supervisors need to be able to see their teams in person, in order to remember how they interact with fellow team members or customers when making decisions on their progress.
My final point is that people who resist WFH may be due to the fact that we have many bosses, but not necessarily leaders.
As I said in a recent post, leaders know how to do the job, so can assess the amount of time and difficulty of each task and so provide guidance and be very comfortable with assessing if someone is, or is not, really engaging to deliver.
So, the fact that the subordinate or team member is not in the office full time should not affect their capacity for assessing the amount of time, support and resources required.
For bosses, well, they just control and give orders, and don’t know how to do it. So, they will always believe that people out of their sight will not be producing.