Working from home is now so much easier, and companies with the right technology and people with roles that can operate from home are finding it difficult to make the transition back into the office. Will working from home be our new normal? Why are we reluctant to go back to the office? 

When I first started Hello Monday, I worked from home and really struggled. I wanted to get into an office environment again – even though I had all this newfound freedom to be my own boss and manage my own time, I didn’t enjoy been at home alone all day. It was a new concept.

It was also different circumstances, and the technology is not what it is today. Yes, I was working for myself – however, I found out very quickly that I am a social being, and I needed to be around people to get my creative energy and feel like I was contributing. What I did learn in that first year at home was that I needed a routine to get me into work mode. That included putting on my work clothes, getting my to-do list ready, setting appointments (no Zoom then) and having regular breaks throughout the day.

During lockdown, after the first 2-3 weeks, I noticed during meetings, people were in casual attire, activewear, or a hoodie. I may sound old fashioned, but my brain was asking – are they at work and working? I remember the first three months at home, it took me nearly six weeks to get a routine going – and it may sound like a long time, but it isn’t. Some mornings I was still in my PJs and bathrobe until 11am. It took a while to shift out of this mindset of working from home. There were days where I was doubting myself and wondering what I was doing. I remember the biggest thing I was craving was to be around people again. This time with COVID-19, I knew what I needed to do to avoid that sinking feeling of working from home.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy working from home and I do it once a week now.

I know not everyone is like me, but the point I want to make is that you can’t always be in your activewear, casual clothes, or even bathrobe to start your day and even remain in them. I get that people want that flexibility, as it saves them commuting time, and they feel more productive as a result. However, working from home can allow for bad habits to creep in because someone is not there to tell you how you should dress, how many breaks you need to take, or that you can pop down to the gym at lunchtime, or go for a run.  Also, you don’t want to get distracted with your household chores.

Lockdown has taught us a lot of things and has pretty much removed the myth that we need to be in the office every day of the week to be visible to be productive. However, it has also got me thinking about how it impacts workplace culture, engagement, and how we work in a team. What will it mean for organisations that traditionally had offices and are now moving away from them, and how will it impact on their workforce?

Another point is that not everyone is set up to work from home. I had to go and buy all my office furniture, including an ergonomic chair. I heard of people working on their kitchen tables, benches, bedrooms, and lounges during the lockdown.  In the short term, that is not a problem, but not everyone has space for a desk and to be set up to work from home.  There are still people that don’t have broadband into their homes. Although working from home is ideal for some, it’s not always practical for everyone, and this is where I feel workplace culture is going to shift, and organisations need to be prepared to manage it. The other issue I believe that will rear its head is mental health. When you are at home, and you are under pressure or not sure of how to solve a problem, it can be quite daunting to be by yourself and not able to just pop over to someone and talk about it. I found that with setting up Hello Monday. Organisations will need to get savvy and have systems and processes set-up for their people to be able to reach out for support and help.

I totally get people wanting to work from home, and if your business can allow some flexibility, then do it. However, if you’re going to build a culture and an engaged team, you need to be prepared to work hard to lead your remote workforce. It is not only the cultural element that will be impacted but also the mental health element. I have heard of introverts loving work from home and extroverts, not loving it quite so much. Conversations that would typically happen at a desk, hallway or lunchroom are quickly disappearing, and this impacts workplace culture, engagement, and relationships in the workplace.

Below are some tips I want to share and encourage you to take note of if you are going to work from home:

  1. Get dressed for work every day. Get into work mode. 
  2. Set a schedule for the day and stick to it. Prioritise your day. Don’t work in your emails.
  3. Take regular breaks throughout the day. Avoid working 3-4 hours straight without a break.
  4. Exercise. Go for a walk or run at lunchtime. Don’t eat at your desk.  Get out of your house. 
  5. Check-in with a work colleague at least once a day. Keep building relationships.
  6. Avoid back-to-back Zoom or Teams meeting. Take a 15-minute break between meetings.
  7. Make social time with your colleagues. This may be a revival of social clubs, Friday drinks, quiz nights, or social sports teams. We need to stay connected. 

Working at home is a privilege and not an entitlement, and we need to be aware that this is new territory for everyone – employees and employers.  Having open and honest conversations about working from home, workplace culture, engagement, productivity, mental health, and wellbeing are all important topics that we should all discuss openly – especially if you have some of your workforce working from home. I believe this decade will see a massive shift to how we work.