Work from home? Why it can prove to be disastrous
‘If army men decide to work from home even one season, we are all screwed!”
So let’s start by saying that there are few professions which just doesn’t support this concept at all. So this article may be relevant to only those who can leverage the connected world for earning bread and butter.
While my first statement itself might be turning off for a lot of people since remote work is the in-thing, I want to let everyone know that I work from home at least once a week and I do believe it works. For one I have been able to add some serious feathers to my cap working from home on pre-specified days and with a plan.
So here goes my justification for why I think work from home might make sense:
- It’s a complete 24 karat gold time. Not even a single working minute gets wasted and one can focus for as long as their attention span is.
- There is no context switching due to distractions/change in priorities by other people. It’s proven, context switching only wastes a ton of your time and is a known productivity killer.
- No travel overheads. People get to work at a time and place convenient to them without having to deal with things that aren’t in their control.
- Organizations save operational overhead.
- Communications and processes get much more regimented and precise.
- No toxic meetings and no dealing with that one under-prepared and uninformed moron who derails the whole agenda and wastes everyone’s time.
- Huge talent pool! The whole world is at your exposure and some of the best minds who prefer isolation over group settings are yearning for employers like you.
Thus I believe well defined and pre-planned work from home is great and in some ways highly useful for organizations as well as individuals.
However, a 100% reliance can prove to be fatal for both. Here is how:
I would go with career angle first: –
1. You are lost without mentor: If you are just getting started, work from home is a definitively a no go. Since you need a mentor to save you from wandering and making sure you are putting your energy in the right direction.
2. Growth is proportional to impact you create: Businesses value contribution by the size of responsibility you handle. Thus your growth comes coupled with the size of responsibility (read as revenues you directly / indirectly impact). While you may grow well initially as individual contributors. You will hit a ceiling early in your career since as an individual, irrespective of your expertise, there is only this much value you can bring to an organization. Also, the problem with choosing to be limited at one skill or department is it may get commoditized soon and you stand the risk of replaced by robots.
3. No connection or sense of purpose: For the majority of folks, the only thing that motivates them while working from home is the salary they get, the flexibility they have and savings they do in commuting. These, however, do not make one feel the part of a larger community or purpose. You are reduced to your tickets that you are handed over to resolve. You may have no clue on where it is coming from or where its headed to.
4. You are never a part of the decision-making process: No one wants to bypass you, Its just tough to invite you into decision making conversations when it’s a whole group whiteboarding.
5. We are sum total of people who we have ever met: Some of the greatest travelers on earth traveled across the globe to meet new people and gain experiences. When working from home, where would you find these people from? Skype?
6. Giving back is your responsibility too: Just imagine if every senior had chosen to work remotely when you joined in as fresher. Who would you have looked up to? Turn the tables around, in the same context you are obliged to give back what you have learned to next set of freshers and this is not a favor, but your duty.
7. Dealing with distractions: Dealing with distractions at home or your place of comfort isn’t the same as it’s at work. There is always a risk of colleague walking across for a banter or coaxing you to join for tea. But at home, it’s worse. Right from attending all phone calls, to kids (if you have any), running errands, opening the door every time someone shows up, the list goes on. If one were to do cost value proposition, they would say your getting distracted at the office is much better – at least it helps you build better relations and camaraderie with peers, juniors, and seniors.
8. You don’t know what you don’t know: Asking questions limited to work or your problems you are facing with delivery only gets you limited answers. You don’t get answers to better ways of solving the problem. You don’t get answers on what other methods exist. You are left to your own means. While that works great for a lot of people, it turns out to be a serious waste of time for few.
9. Missing – “Over the shoulder” approach: This to me ranks as the biggest disadvantage. When you have a peer or a senior watching over the shoulder, they stop you going down the wrong lane early in your journey. There are few who would love to learn from their own mistakes. But to me, there is no fun in repeating the mistake which someone has already committed and can predict consequences in advance. It’s not only a waste of time for you but also ends up in wasting organization work cycle. Also, in theory, I can tell you step by step process to accomplish a task. In reality, when the result isn’t as per expectation, it’s not until I see what you have done, I can tell you where you have messed up or may mess up. The whole exercise from the sound of it feels like a huge waste of time, energy, and limited resources.
As an organization:
10. Your better players pay the price for rest: Working remotely works well for people who have a clear understanding of delivery, business, dependencies, and accountability. Such people, however, are rare. Rest of the team, need more handholding on everything else except what they are experts on. This essentially ends up taxing the very few who get it. Not only they are coping with their responsibility to lead and get work done, they are now also dealing with getting hold of people for it. They find themselves repeating the same things in different teammates and in conference calls, there is always someone with background noise who kills it for the whole team.
11. Its a collaboration nightmare: So when do you plan to have your stand-ups? What would you do about whiteboarding sessions? How do you do planning poker? All on conference calls and bridge line? While there are tools for everything, there is an additional coordination that needs to be done to get everyone together. To quote Marissa Meyer, “People are more collaborative, more inventive when people come together.” According to her, things like Flickr photo being shown in Yahoo weather app cant happen when people didn’t bump into each other. She said: “Those things don’t come together unless someone from Flickr runs into someone from Weather in the hallway or cafeteria and has that conversation,”
12. A stream of pings and calls: You have TOO many channels deal with anyways – slack, skype, whats app, Basecamp, emails and phone calls. Having half of the team working from home makes sure that all them get used and little time is spent on delivery.
13. Misuse of facilities: While there are several reasons to believe that everyone will be honest and responsible towards using this “facility” judiciously. We as humans have amazing rationalization skills. So we can completely rationalize why it was ok to make a trip to the departmental store during peak working hours and why it didn’t hurt the company at all!
14. Organizational Experience: A client comes to any organization seeing its portfolio and its maturity to be the ability to deliver the assignment at hand based on your previous capability. While the organization as a whole might have a lot of experience in the domain or delivery, the individual connecting remotely still sees a ticket which got assigned to him by someone. The problem with that is, there barely any positive learning curve utilized. So irrespective of what your complete organization experience is, for the client more often than not, it’s a fresher in the domain working on their project.
15. Its an entitlement only mature people deserve: In a conversation, one of my organization’s star performers complained that flexible work hours are leading to issues. People don’t come in for the daily scrums on time and when they do show up, they need to be told all over again what the priority is. Worse, the people dependant on the last guy showing up end up getting much lesser hours to do their job, leading to them postponing that tasks to next day since they have their own cutoffs. Also, identifying dependancy and planning the day in accordance with others is not what everyone is good at. While she wasn’t complaining about flexible work hours but the maturity folks availing it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have the whole team on a flexible work from home with such kind of maturity.
To conclude, I do not want to put a disclaimer that these are just my thoughts and so on. I know I may be deeply criticized for it. But here is the reality – we all need truth tellers! Who makes you face the hard reality without letting you pussyfoot around the problems.