New Way of Working

Will home offices become the new standard workplace?

The new world of work is one of the hottest topics at many companies today. Prior to 2020, a lot of employees wanted to work from home, but not all employers allowed them to do so. And then the pandemic began. Let´s see what //next columnist Markus expects for the future. 

 

On account of COVID-19, a lot of permanent employees are still working from home. As a freelancer, I am accustomed to it. But there is a crucial difference between choosing and having to work in one’s residence. That is why I focus below on whether or not working from home should be the new normal.

As the media reported in May, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has allowed all of his staff to decide whether they want to work from home or at the office – even after the pandemic. That does sound good for the environment and for personal decision-making. But there is quite a lot to consider when working from home. Do you have a good IT set-up and the infrastructure you need? How can you motivate yourself to work soon after waking up? And just how much clothing do you actually need to wear underneath your desk? All in all, working from home presents a unique set of challenges. 

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No rules? No way!

According to a survey conducted in March by the public-opinion research institute Civey on behalf of TÜV Rheinland, only 60 percent of all employees in Germany were finding it easy to work from home. Young workers in particular were struggling considerably to transition to mobile working. After all, apprentices, trainees and young professionals are least likely to have developed a routine, established a sense of organising their day and managing their time, or simply gained enough professional experience. In addition, many young workers do not know how to respond to tricky situations or what they must do to be prepared.

Such employees need managers who are also good leaders. Bosses can be both the primary contacts and mentors for young staff in need of support. It is very important for people working remotely to get feedback regularly through phone calls, text messaging, and video calls – all of which is possible at any time. If a company is to remain successful, the unambiguous assignment of responsibilities and tasks as well as clear lines of communication are of particular importance.

Recently, a lot of people I have talked with have said that they miss the human touch – being able to chat over coffee or share a laugh with colleagues during lunch, for instance. That is a good point, but there are worthy alternatives. I have enjoyed virtual coffee dates using Zoom and Teams and the like. In fact, I even participated in a late-night chat to kick off the month of May. Virtual options cannot replace face-to-face interaction, but they are a decent place to start. 

Home offices pose risks to IT security …

People typically find discussions of online security or data protection boring, but they are important considerations for people working remotely. A lot of people are able to work wherever there is a stable internet connection. Most seem to be aware that it is unwise to simply use free Wi-Fi to log into their employer’s network. In general, you should avoid using public hotspots and private Wi-Fi connections – unless they are verifiably secure to use. All your passwords must be secure against attack, and the firmware for your router should be up to date. But that is not all. You also need to make sure that your computer is secure and reliable. Everything needs to be up to date. Your computer must be free of malware to prevent unauthorised people from accessing your employer’s network. In a similar vein, employees are instructed not to open suspicious emails that contain attachments or links.  Last but not least, a company’s IT infrastructure also needs to be state of the art. And all employees require VPN access. 

… but the offer many opportunities

I acknowledge that the above-mentioned IT challenges hardly seem enticing. But once you clear the hurdles, working from home offers a wealth of opportunities – with employees in particular enjoying considerable latitude. You can clarify with your boss at what times you will work so as to best accommodate your family life and leisure time. And you get to decide when to start working and when to call it a day. This counteracts social jet lag – the phenomenon whereby people tend to be either early risers or night owls, with different people being more productive at different times. And I do not know anybody who enjoys long commutes, let alone searching for a parking space. In my book, that is a recipe for misery.

All in all, there are many opportunities for employers to likewise benefit. After all, their staff members will be more productive but also less stressed. According to the 2013 study "Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment", home working led to a 13% performance increase compared to office working. But that is not the only advantage. Specialists are very fond of remote jobs, and companies which offer them receive more job applications. Simply allowing staff to work from home can provide an employer a decisive edge over the competition.

This approach also scales back the culture of meetings and the number of business trips. Teams only need to meet in person to discuss important changes or major topics. In short, this frees up a lot of time for employees – who can in turn commit more time to important tasks, thus further propelling their employer down its path of success. What’s more, all of the above collectively cuts costs and benefits the environment. I am especially passionate about environmental protection; I am curious to see what unfolds once the pandemic ends. 

So: How will we work in future?

When it comes to working from home and the working world of tomorrow, we are currently at the peak of inflated expectations in Gartner’s hype cycle. I personally see that as a good thing, but it remains to be seen what comes of it in the long run.

Several years ago, I worked for 16 months as a digital nomad, a lifestyle romanticised by most people. Indeed, you can work anywhere in the world, and afterwards go surf – online or in the ocean, mind you.

I came to realise in practice, however, that being a digital nomad is possible for just a minority of freelancers. Although I can easily imagine programmers or SEO experts as nomads, it is unfortunately not an option for communications consultants. Why not, you ask? I missed out on all the important meetings. Not to mention coffee after lunch, going for a walk in the afternoon, and chit-chatting in the corridor. I experienced none of that when I worked remotely. That is why my professional pendulum swung from 0 to 50% office working.

Even if the day comes to pass that we can all relocate our workplaces from the office to home or elsewhere in the world, I would decide against it for the sake of maintaining interpersonal interactions. In short, my personal vision of the future of work is a 50/50 split between the office and home.

Text: Markus Sekulla