I see so many LinkedIn polls that ask: What split would you like between office work and working from home?
It’s still a new thing for many of us, hence it’s a hot topic. However, these polls have been done to death, and the answers vary based on what you do and your personal circumstances.
Instead of endlessly debating how many days to work from home, why not ask a different question:
How do we transition from mass working from home to true flexible working?
And a second question to consider:
How can we create (or maintain) a positive, collaborative culture when we don’t have everyone in the office at the same time?
Here are a few of my own thoughts on that.
When you’re new, in-person support can be essential
This is whether you’re a new starter at a company, if you’re changing careers and are new to the field (whether it’s a brand new company or not), or if you’re fresh out of school / University and completely new to the workforce.
Remote training sessions are great but being there in person gives you the opportunity to meet your peers. I’ve been working for 20+ years and I still find working from home to be very isolating. I can’t imagine what it’s like when you’re starting your career.
Coordinate flexibility within teams
Being able to choose when you go into the office could be a great setup for many people.
However, if a whole team can go into the office on the same days, I’d argue this will be far more beneficial than if team members go into the office when they feel like it – and then don’t communicate or coordinate their office days with anyone else.
For example, you could have everyone in on a Wednesday and give them the opportunity to work together in person, arrange training, or plan a social event.
If a team needs someone on-site but the whole team doesn’t have to be in together, you could rotate who goes in when. Pick days, or do one week on / one week off.
If there are other people in your company you’d like to meet with, again this is a matter of coordination – much like booking a slot in someone’s calendar. Pick days when you’ll all be there.
Avoid mandating too many “office days”
It would be a shame to go into the office and find that hardly anyone else is there. But I don’t think we should all work from the office 5 days a week either.
If a company mandates that everyone must be in the office say 2 days a week, that takes away some of the flexibility that teams may want to have. Does it have to be the same two days as the rest of the company? What about others in your team?
For anyone in the company who works part-time or is a working parent, do they have to follow the same policies? What if you only work 2 days a week – can you only work from the office? Also, what about remote workers who joined during the pandemic and live too far away to be in the office regularly?
Mandating a fixed number of days in the office may lead to full-time staff who live near to an office feeling that they aren’t afforded the same flexibility as others. You might wonder: if I moved further away, would I be able to work more flexibly?
Why not set a low bar – a general recommendation of say, 2 days a month in the office – perhaps with 1 day where everyone who can come in does so – and let teams figure out the rest? It reminds people to come in occasionally, but doesn’t make everyone feel they have to come in all the time.
If you want people to go to the office, tell them why
If the justification to “you must be in 2-3 days a week” is basically “because we say so” that can create a “them and us” culture between management and staff.
You can set whatever policies you like – if you have them – but don’t forget to tell people why. Be honest – avoid vague explanations like “to encourage teamwork”. Be specific – what are you doing that needs teamwork? Is it always needed? Could it differ from week to week?
A good example of why blanket policies don’t work – especially for an entire company – is that from time to time we probably all need to work on things and not be interrupted. Working from home is an excellent way to do that. Also, if you have a day filled with video calls, you’re almost certainly better off doing those at home.
On the other hand, if you like to have lots of in-person interactions, those are so much more satisfying when they are actually, you know, in-person – and not on Zoom. It’s kind of hard to schedule bumping into someone at the coffee machine – someone you wouldn’t think to arrange a video call with. And I find you’re more likely to meet someone new at the office, than to have a random Zoom call with them.
Make the most of flexibility – but don’t be lazy
There are huge benefits to flexible working. I can choose to work from home on days when I’ve arranged deliveries or for people to look at things that need fixing or improving in my flat. If the trains are stuffed, I can work from home then too. When I’m at home, I can put the washing on, or make a sandwich for lunch rather than buying one.
While it’s great to have the option to work from home, if you live near to an office and can get to one from time to time, don’t be lazy and work from home all the time because it’s the easy option. Yes, you’ll save time and money (and hassle) on commuting. But I think that going to the office now and again does us a world of good.
We shouldn’t feel we need to go in 5 days a week, or return to paying through the nose for expensive season tickets. But working from home vs working from the office isn’t an either/or, nor is it a simple matter of choosing that you’ll do 2 days in one place and 3 in another. It’s about companies trusting people to make a sensible choice, and about people not taking the piss. It’s a two-way street.