WFH – The Vital Signs
To regard Working From Home as a largely geographical question is like saying where you work is irrelevant. Environment is the setting that drives our mood, ignites the sparks in our brain and powers our creativity. As actor Peter Ustinov said “Once we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our mind, our one duty is to furnish it well”. Nelson Mandela, South African President was even clearer. “If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”
Companies have their own reasons for wanting some people to return to work in the office, whatever the journey time, whatever the cost. Even with today’s fast communications, presence is still the quickest way to message other people. A glance, a nod, a thumbs-up or a shriek of horror all say in one expression what might take longer by code. The experiences at those nuclear plants that have had dangerous problems confirms this. It is one of the reasons that governments and banks are falling behind in business contacts with their customers.
Working from home, on the other hand, enables those who do so to incorporate into their work the current events of the world. With information changing so rapidly, it is an advantage to any business to have their senior executives well informed and smartly up to date. As technology exacerbates the need for learning, it is good to have not only those in positions of control now but those occupying the next one or two levels of potential senior managers thoroughly up-to-date. Stuck at an office desk is not the best place from which to accomplish this. For WFH to be fully beneficial to an organisation certain signals need to be observed in each of those who may be offered the privilege of doing so.
Most obvious and most important is self discipline. The office imposes disciplines that can disappear when translated into the home. Even if you are good at maintaining your regular exercise and your set of essential routines, it is all too easy to let these slacken off at times of pressure or on the occasion of holidays. Nobody can give you a perfect list of things you must do but one of the failings we regularly observe is not keeping up with current events. If you are senior in a business it is vital that you do so for the survival of the operation. If you are not so senior you have a responsibility as a voter and as a contributor to your society to keep yourself informed. It can mean the difference between you and your family’s flourishing or serious deprivation and discomfort.
Time management is at the heart of good organisation and efficiency. The office clock may be somewhat forbidding but it keeps a rhythm and pace that, used properly, enables the business to be creative. Deadlines for the WFH brigade have a habit of being allowing you to put off until tomorrow those things that are difficult or unpleasant. Another frequently observed problem of WFH is the failure to check emails and reports before they are sent to those who must read and act on them. An office environment has the effect of reminding us that accuracy is important and sloppiness, quickly discovered. They say that the soldier’s platoon is to make him or her aware of how smart his colleagues are. A platoon of one doesn’t quite do that.
The driver for all these things is self motivation to achieve. John Steinbeck captured the thought perfectly in his philosophical chapter in The Grapes of Wrath. “The last, clear, definite function of mankind, muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need.” Spot that in one of your employees and you have identified the person who can profitably WFH. The freedom of self-motivation is something all mentors and coaches must concentrate on if we are to make the new order work.
To the right person, WFH is a door opening, a release from the prison of conformity. Winston Churchill observed this many years ago. His famous summary of it is “In the pursuit of freedom we are building too many prisons”.
Release brings with it responsibility. Personal responsibility.