Working From Home - A New Paradigm?

May 2020

A lot has been said and heard about work from home (WFH), hasn’t it? Yes, and a lot remains to be understood, experienced and then improvised upon. Remember, WFH has become a reality for the majority of us only since the past two months. Normally, we shove ourselves in overcrowded trains and buses to reach our work place by 9AM to do what could have been done from the luxury of our own homes: address emails and other online work. We are all new to WFH and we are all learning what it entails, its challenges, promises, pros and cons. We are all guinea pigs in a laboratory experiment of global proportions. Software companies, given their nature of work and history, are perhaps the best adapted to the WFH world and we have a lot to learn from them both as workers and organisations. 

For most of us, work was a place we went to and fulfilled our duties and responsibilities alongside building professional and social connections with co-workers and other stakeholders we interacted with. Home, on the other hand, was always a place we went to after work was done and dealt with. There is a whole section of books on how we should keep our personal and professional lives separate. Well, you know what, that bit just got a  whole lot more challenging as we work from home and so did the work-life balance equation. 

For starters, when in office, people can see you work. You can show people that you are working. While operating remotely, there is an instant loss of this transparency. This means the quality of output is a major consideration for your proof of having done the work. When your boss or co-worker can see you working in the office, there is some amount of trust that gets built by the sheer fact that you are visibly doing work. While working remotely, this trust-building is lost as colleagues can’t simply stop by and ask a query or two or discuss this or that. Nope. However, since we live in an interdependent world, these acts get replaced by emails and calls. A simple way to build this trust in a remote scenario is by being prompt with your replies and reverts. We reckon the double blue tick in WhatsApp has gained new relevance since most of the time your colleagues just want to know that you are aware of their ask. 

WFH entails some space that you can call as your workspace. Not everyone has the luxury of a cabin or a cubicle environment at home. Not all of us have a separate room we can go to for work. This makes it imperative to have a corner in your house earmarked for ‘work’. Pick a place with the least amount of distractions. We have had video calls with folks petting their dogs, spouses yelling things that need immediate attention, children, well simply being children, during these calls. One particular call is memorable as the gentleman didn’t realise the wide-angle his Mac camera could cover and inadvertently brought his wedding day, playing on his television in the far right corner of the room, into the call. 

Remote work goes hand in hand with effective time management. As the line between work and home blurs, it thrusts upon us a renewed responsibility of being more efficient with our time. It pays to start the day at a fixed hour and try ending it at a certain fixed time. As motivation ebbs and flows through the day, we can’t underscore the importance of planned breaks. These breaks can be for lunch, a walk around, ensuring folks at home get to see a bit of you socially during the day as well, no matter what they are for, time them and calibrate them. The word to remember here is ‘planned’. It is very easy to slide breaks into work and work into breaks. If you have set aside 30 minutes for lunch, instill the discipline to get back to your workstation post that. Someone posted on his Facebook that he has always been a timepiece aficionado but hasn’t worn one since the lockdown began and no longer remembers even which wrist he wore it on. Well, if you don’t keep track of time, you are simply making it difficult for yourself to maintain a line between work and home. 

There is a popular bite out there that says, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person”. It is easier to get through projects and checklists when you are in the “zone” and are in the process of getting things off your desk. Instead of trying to motivate yourself to get a big ask out of the way, pieces of it can be weaved in through your work day and voila, it has been achieved by day’s end without the need to dedicate a specific time slot to start and finish the project through the day. 

A lot has been said about the dress code too. Many experts believe we should dress as if we are in the office even though we are technically at home. Dressing professionally can enhance your productivity as your mindset reflects your attire. If you are to present on platforms like Skype, Meet, Teams or Zoom it is recommended to be dressed up at least in your Friday dress if not full formal attire. Like everything else, there are pros and cons to this aspect too. If attire doesn’t influence your productivity or professionalism, it is totally fine if you can give your best in your loungewear or slacks. 

While transitioning to WFH at Equanimity, we have faced our fair share of challenges, tomfooleries and hilarious moments. We have come to realize that while being in office is certainly important to build a team’s culture, culture can be adequately preserved and even enhanced under WFH. COVID-19 has changed the way we work as a team and there is a heightened sense of responsibility to over-communicate while we are away from each other. We are not sure how this would evolve were WFH to become more permanent in our lives but that’s a discussion for if and when we cross that bridge. 

For WFH to succeed, workers need to have access to appropriate technology, tools, apps and software. Nowadays, a significant amount of office-related documents, paperwork, etc. resides in the cloud making it far easier to access and use. If you already haven’t, this is a good time to consider investing in a good noise-cancelling headset eliminating background noise for all the hours that you participate in virtual meetings. As organisations get their arms around the persistence of work from home post COVID, it is a good time for you to start a conversation with HR or your boss about having access to these tools. It will not only ensure that you are more productive but also ease the burden of WFH for you. Even as we spoke about a lot of things we are doing while we work from home during this time, it won't be remiss to end with a caveat – everyone is different and what works for us may not work for you or your organization. We think it is important to try out different permutations and combinations of these tools, to arrive at reasonable operating procedures that will enable everyone to work with the least amount of friction. 

On a lighter note, going forward our recruiting process may include some WFH scenarios to evaluate candidate responses: your spouse has a meeting to attend, your mother in law is watching Netflix and your kid has an online class going on. Your team is complaining that your video and voice are incoherent and keep breaking all the time. You have a 10mbps connection. How will you manage this situation? Or this one: your maid hasn’t showed up, your spouse is unwell and your kid is wailing at the top of her voice. You have to host a zoom call in 5 minutes. How will you manage?