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Working from home: a blessing or a curse? - By Hugo Minney - Blog

Working from home: a blessing or a curse? - By Hugo Minney

 "May you live in interesting times" is often cited as a Chinese curse. It highlights the dilemma that we prefer having interesting things going on, but perhaps not when we have no control over them.

The same applies to lock-down

It's great working from home because I can be flexible with my time. I can work as long as I like into the evening or take an extended lunch break in the garden (when it's sunny!). Instead of a three hour commute and a week living in lodgings, I am at home with my partner, and I am able to do minor but important house chores that would otherwise pile-up at weekends.

But how's work going?

Lock-down has caused a 20 percent fall in economic activity[1]. On the plus side, this means that 80 percent of the economy is going just fine during lock-down, but this reduction is going to affect us all in different ways.

I've heard people claim to be more effective when working from home. We're able to concentrate without interruptions, to get the overdue reading and writing done. We don't have to deal with a long commute, and we can be flexible. This means we can take breaks to enjoy the sunshine, and return to our desks refreshed.

So there are positives, but also negatives

That's what I like. However, I believe I'm less able to be effective when everyone is working remotely.

I'm here to introduce change, to take you out of your comfort zone. How many of the problems that I've identified below do you recognise?

  • I can't get hold of people

All those people who can avoid interruptions, for them, I am the interruption! I'm introducing change, so I rely on that chance introduction at a meeting; those brief "catch-ups" when I'm in the building; or as a worst case scenario, when I bring my sandwiches and camp out at your desk because you can't avoid me for ever. When we're both working from home, you can avoid emails and phone calls forever; it makes my job (to bring change) much more difficult. You often need information or decisions that are in someone else's head, working remotely means it takes longer to get this.

  • No time for reflection

When we're working from home, we don't have to travel anywhere. We can fit in back-to-back calls, conference calls and video calls. We give ourselves no time to decompress, all for the worthy end of getting more in.

But it's counter-productive. That little bit of time walking from room to room, or driving, was an important decompression time to put the thoughts of the last meeting into some sort of order and prepare for the next meeting. Maybe it's just me?

  • Meetings themselves are less effective

On a video call, I can't see all the body language. Because everyone is coming through on the same headphones or speakers, I can't easily listen to two conversations at once. As a result, there are many more silences when people politely wait for someone else to start (or stop) talking.In the meeting room, we can see someone leaning forwards or moving their hand from in front of their mouth, and we can distinguish when someone on my left says something at the same time as someone on my right.

I don't know if anyone has counted, but I would guess that there are 25 percent fewer words spoken in a 60 minute meeting by video call, versus a meeting in a room in person. But we can't use the silences to think, because they're unpredictable and typically don't follow the most significant points.

What's more important is that's before technical glitches like dropping out of a call, or becoming inaudible.

  • There are distractions

Home life is full of distractions. I'm able to work late, so I can take a break in the middle of the day.

But this might make me unavailable when someone needs to contact me urgently. I'll make up the time, but not at the time when it was needed

Why did we go into the office in the first place?

Ruth Murray-Webster asked "How much of your time could you work from anywhere?". People scored overwhelmingly that they could: 80 percent of the time, they thought. After the pandemic and the lock-down, I'm sure a lot of us will work from home part of the time.


I wonder if this lock-down has highlighted exactly why we prefer to have face-to-face meetings? Or why people fly worldwide on business instead of using video conferencing, and when you've done it more than twice, you aren't there for the sights and food!?

I wonder if people reading this blog will recognise the sheer amount of energy that goes into bringing about change, and how difficult it is to convey that energy, and that passion, when working remotely?

I wonder what pros and cons you think about when considering how much home working you are going to do, and how much home working you expect / allow your team to do, when we have a choice? Your experience and thoughts are very welcome

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Wednesday, 28 October 2020

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