Working from home

Working from home is one of those interesting organisational challenges. On one hand, in an organisation that is short on space we are encouraged to consider alternative ways of working, but on the other hand, emails are circulated saying that working from home is a privilege that requires approval which will only be granted in specific circumstances.

In one conversation about working from home the point was made that years ago we were told we’d have paperless offices and yet we still print hundreds of sheets of paper a week. If that idea didn’t work then there is no way working from home could work. I can see the parallels. Both shifts require changes in organisational culture and expectations, changes in working practices, and most fundamentally changes in thinking.

I think thinking about it as ‘working in the office’ versus ‘working from home’ is a limiting and unhelpful approach. This kind of switch just swaps one set of issues for another and doesn’t really deal with any of the problems of working at either location. So, really it needs to be thought of as ‘working from anywhere’, be it on the train, in a coffee shop, in an office (not necessarily an office owned by your organisation), or at home. Since ‘working’ is about what the individual achieves for the organisation, ‘working from anywhere’ should be about where that individual achieves for the organisation, but also how.

It is the how that is the big mind shift. The older/existing dominant approach is to ‘move the workers to where the work is’. This is fine in an industrial age where the work is centred around a specific location with specialised equipment, but in a digital age where all a worker needs is a laptop and an internet connection, is it really the best way? A more modern/digital approach is ‘moving the work to where the worker is’.

Moving the work to where the worker is opens options. Of course the worker needs to physically be somewhere but not having a ‘move the workers to the work’ approach means that the worker could choose to work somewhere where they can achieve extra benefits for the organisation. Want to work more collaboratively with other organisations in your sector? Rather than monthly meetings at the office, just all work in the same shares space. Want to focus on a piece of work and not have any distractions? Rather than being at your desk where people can interrupt you, just work in a library.

It should be for the individual to decide how best to achieve for the organisation, including where to be, and the organisation should empower that rather than preventing it.