This is NOT real home working

Published 03/04/2020
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Britain is currently working from home, but it is not real remote working. This is a plea to anyone who is new to remote working to avoid judging it by your current experiences: because this is not how home, remote or flexible working usually look and feel.
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For many people, the current working experience is highly uncomfortable and they would love to get back to normal ASAP, then never dabble in this kind of working again. However, I believe it would be a damaging backward step if we ditched working outside the office as soon as the all-clear siren sounds. And here’s why:

1. You’re not properly set up for it
Chances are, you left the office with just a few hours’ warning, grabbing what you could carry and with people shouting after you “Go! Go now! RUNNN!!!!”. There was no time to even collect everything you might need, let alone build an effective system that means you can easily access all the information and materials you need by logging in from home. Everything that was once easy is now clunky and time-consuming.

It’s not IT’s fault. IT teams are usually given months, even years, of notice for building secure systems that can be remotely accessed. They’re allowed time and budget to provide everyone with the necessary kit, such as phones, laptops and printers that even work. So when we all go back to work, don’t write off home/remote working on the grounds of “our system isn’t suited to it” – you can always build a functioning one.

2. You wouldn’t usually do it all the time
The vast majority of people who work remotely don’t do so all the time. A majority do it for part of the week, with time in the office to do those things that need physical access. Some do it occasionally, such as for tasks requiring concentration, e.g. writing plans or reports. Even people in field sales meet the boss and their colleagues on a regular basis. So a reminder in case you’d already forgotten – full lockdown isn’t normal. Indeed, it’s best practice in remote management situations to insist that the team makes time for regular face to face get-togethers, where people can actually smell their colleagues….

3. Your line manager may be new to it
We always recommend specific training for people who are moving into remote line management. There’s a fine balance to be struck between support, supervision and scrutiny. However, in the mad panic on the day everyone left the office, your firm probably didn’t find time to fit that course in. In addition, your line manager is now probably either instinctively disposed or instructed to regularly check that you’re OK.

Adding these two situations together, there’s every chance that you feel a bit checked-up-on. In the office ordinarily, your manager may well be discreetly checking you’re OK and cracking on, without you noticing her doing so. But she can’t do that from her spare bedroom, so she’s checking in with you and it possibly seems a bit more supervisor-ish than normal. Take it as well-intentioned and carry on.

And a coach’s top tip: those awkward “how are you coping?” conversations are always very uncomfortable on the Skype screen. My theory is that it’s partly because we feel we need to sit front-on to the camera like we’re in a 1970s’ photo booth. A line manager and employee would never sit like that in the office, with full eyeballing. Try offsetting the screen slightly, as if you were sitting cornerwise to each other – it feels a lot more natural and you can speak a lot more comfortably

4. You don’t usually do it under extreme strain
In the old days, when we all lived a normal life, home working was just like any other day. You did not work at home while worrying about how your elderly dad was doing, where your next toilet roll was coming from or how you could teach your eight-year-old improper fractions. You just sat down and worked. But at the moment, we have a cacophonous background noise, created not just by home-schooled kids, but by rolling news and understandable innate anxieties. It will inevitably be eroding your patience and shortening your fuse. It's not usually this stressful.

But stress and worry are not a normal part of remote working. Try not to associate it with an anxious and frustrating time in your life.

So when this is all over, and we’re all dancing in the streets with relief, don’t put remote working behind you. This wasn’t it. You’ll be able to keep the useful bits; IT will have time to provide the right kit and processes; professionals will be teaching your children; and you’ll be much, much calmer. And after we’ve all got through this together, you’ll never be self-isolated again.
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ARK Associates is a dedicated coaching provider. We work with senior executives who need to think clearly, plan confidently and communicate flawlessly with their teams and peers. We're especially interested in leadership issues; newly-promoted senior leaders; confidence building; and stress reduction. For people looking to buy all forms of senior team coaching, we are a very low-risk choice, being vastly experienced, well-established and highly-regarded.

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