It’s no surprise that as I write this everyone’s year has been that little bit different and I hope you are all staying safe and well. We can’t take away the tragedy and chaos Covid-19 has caused however this has brought about some radical changes in many peoples working practices and an opportunity that really cannot be ignored.
Covid-19 gives us a real chance to come out the other side with a better way of working for both employees and employers, handing over a world to our children that we are proud to have helped shaped in our working lives.
If you are reading this then you will likely know that I am a Workspace (or End User Computing whichever term you prefer) consultant and have been for many years now. I’ve always been interested in technology solutions that widen options as well as improving the experience for staff and have driven towards the any-device, any-location anytime style mantra. The technology stacks I have worked with I have seen a transition from internal-only infrastructure alongside thin clients through the occasional and disaster recovery use case to what it is capable of achieving today. I may be slightly biased here but I see an opportunity for a mass and quick change of working practices for organisations that are already onboard this work style and also those that are resistant or previously unable to allow this. This blog post is a bit of a read and I’m sorry about that but there’s been a good few Twitter conversations I’ve had over the past few months that have talked about this topic and felt that I’ve not managed to get all my current thoughts on the subject across.
Psychological and balance impacts
Over the last few years, questions have been coming to light around this way of working with mental health and the work/life balance being two of the major talking points within pretty much every industry. A fantastically frank and honest account of the issue can be found here https://www.techradar.com/news/workplace-stress-a-major-technology-bug-to-fix. We should all pay close attention and look for signs of stress etc in ourselves and also within others around us and the stigma of just getting on with it because its part of the job needs to go. Work/life balance is also a hot topic with many workers spending almost a full working day on just getting to and from work and if there’s a traffic jam or leaves on the line you can forget getting home in time to put the kids to bed. But I believe it doesn’t have to be this way.
Traditional bricks and mortar approach
For many, the pre-Covid working practices followed a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century including 40-hour working week travel to and from an office 5 days a week 9-5 with very little flexibility. This has slowly started changing over the last few years with some employer’s introducing flexi-time and work from home days during the week, however many organisations have stuck to the traditional requirement of staff needing to be sat at a specific desk, in a specific office at a specific time for the whole working week. Believe it or not, this approach is hurting businesses and stifling the growth and success they are trying to achieve.
Taking the question of location into account, large cities like London attract people from all over the country to work allowing capital based organisations the ability to pick and choose their talent from a wide geographical boundary.
Organisations who are not London-based and reside in smaller towns, villages, etc who do not benefit from the city draw their talent from a much smaller geographical boundary and workers tend to be local to the office. These organisations are no less entitled to the best of the talent that they are recruiting for at the time however, their selection of staff is reduced considerably by requiring staff to commute into the specific desk and a specific office at a specific time. Organisations are losing out on this front alone. By removing the requirement to travel to work you remove that boundary for working and provides more choice for both employers and employees. Indeed employment need not stop at the countries borders either, for companies who may embrace this approach and can either use or ignore time differences why not cast the hiring net internationally giving organisations an even wider range of employee’s all offering their valued experience and additional localised input.
Businesses can also benefit by decentralising from one or more offices. By adopting a work from home first strategy organisations can remove or downsize their physical bricks and mortar requirements saving the companies money that they can reinvest into the business process or staff.
Business and government obligations
The savings made from physical locations should not all be shareholder/ceo bound with the forced work from home we are now experiencing companies will have time and the ability to assess and assist their home workers better, bolstering their processes and welfare for home workers. Companies should see it as a duty to provide resources or advice for home workers. When Covid suddenly shut offices across the globe there were many reports of companies allowing their staff to take home IT equipment, chairs, or whatever they could spare to assist the staff to work effectively from home.
This scramble isn’t a new normal rather a mass execution of a DR incident which even when organisations test DR plans regularly an actual incident always throw curveballs or issues that have not been planned for. However, these companies did have the correct general gist in accepting that providing a remotely accessible VDI or VPN is not enough to provide a good work from home experience. Companies will ideally provide a work from home budget allowing people to purchase items necessary to effectively work from home whether that’s a webcam, chair, or new laptop, or ideally all three. By providing this budget staff can obtain the items that work for them and their home working environment. Even by providing these extra’s organisations will still benefit from the reduced reliance on office locations and a much wider reach of potential staff and greater capabilities of business growth and flexibility.
During the pandemic, many companies even my own took a keener interest in peoples well being. Mine as an example allowed me to set up a weekly drop-in meeting with our department providing a no-pressure avenue to discuss anything at all, from what people are working on, personal activities, worries, etc etc. This has been very successful and has been running every week since this whole affair started. Additionally, we have had welfare checks from our management team and more recently care packages sent to everyone from the company in the guise of notepad’s, pens. things to eat and drink etc. Not all companies do this but it is encouraging to see that on social media it’s not only my employer that is taking this approach to staff welfare which is definitely a good start.
Likewise, office safety laws such as DSE etc need to be updated to reflect the greater percentage of work from home users who are only covered at present by brief mentions within the documentation.
What about non-office workers?
We also can’t ignore that not everyone works in an office-style environment taking the London example above there is a huge supporting infrastructure around the capital-based around restaurants, coffee shops, pubs convenience stores, etc etc. But if you look at that infrastructure what you will largely see is a scooby-doo repeating background style street view with the same organisations providing that critical service. Now I like a £4 cup of coffee as much as the next person but these staff will also be commuting to work. By shifting our working style to predominantly working from home this will also benefit workers in those organisations too.
By moving people to predominantly work from home they will be located within their home town, villages, etc which has its own supporting infrastructure and these locations are more likely to have independent shops cafes, etc that will be able to benefit from a larger pool of local workers and customers looking for their caffeine fix or essential items.
One-size does not fit all
I know not everyone is able to work from home for various reasons such as no suitable space within their home environment, privacy, connectivity, and other concerns mean that offices will sometimes be unavoidable. Also for physical meetings where sometimes a video conference just will not do, I totally accept that the purpose of a company office will not just disappear but we can do better for many workers by moving to this work style that has been up until now creeping very slowly into view. Solutions are already coming to the front with options such as https://try.thryve.network/ and an increase in rent-a-desk style locations for people that only require occasional access to a office desk or high-speed internet connection negating again the need to commute to a central location. In my case, I’d be happy to use a rent-a-desk or coffee shop for their upload pipe when I have something substantial to upload. However for my normal day-to-day usage of VDI’s, teams meetings, etc even my modest rural broadband can cope with that.
Here’s where things may get slightly controversial. Post-Covid I don’t think all businesses should survive on the other side. Much like right-sizing your environment or coping with virtual machine sprawl many industries have ballooned to take advantage of this old physical presence requirement. For example, it is not unusual for people to fly to other countries for work, not only that I have seen with some degree of shall we say concern people boasting about how many air-miles or equivalent they have earned that year. That doesn’t sound to me like something to be celebrated rather ironed out as an old way of meeting people and getting work done. It is nice to go places and see new things and while I’m not a frequent out of country traveller (I’ve been to exactly 3 countries other than my own) I don’t begrudge anyone a holiday but travelling for work in this way which so many people seem to take for granted needs to be seen as a very last resort rather than part of the job. We are losing so much by doing this while also harming the environment around us.
This is not normal
The mass DR execution event was not the new normal, nothing about this pandemic is normal as any of us who regularly work from home will tell you. It’s not solely a constant battle between trying to concentrate on work and having the children around you asking about lockdown homework that your embarrassed to admit that you don’t understand or indeed that feeling of remorseless monotony because when you finish work you are not allowed to go anywhere to spend your free time. For those of you who are not used to working from home, you may not realise it but that isn’t what home working is like.
During non-pandemic times working from home provides not only time back to you because you are not travelling it also allows a degree of flexibility to your day. I regularly move my working day around to fit around my family’s needs Christmas plays, sports days, school meetings all occur during the working day which when working in an office often meant burning an annual leave day for each one. Now all I do is either use my lunch break to attend it or work later or earlier in the evening. Also, work can benefit from my reduced travel time as I am more available and more inclined to help out or perform tasks outside of the traditional working hours which more organisations will see as a huge benefit moving to this working style. Again this is not a freebie and as the Joker says “If your good at something never do it for free” however flexibility for both employee and employer cannot be ignored which would not be the case for office-based work styles.
An example of how not to do things
Already companies are suggesting changes in the wrong direction for working from home an example here from the https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/nov/11/staff-who-work-from-home-after-pandemic-should-pay-more-tax guardian newspaper details how Deutsche Bank believe that work from home staff should be charged 5% extra tax per day because it’s cheaper. I’m not sure where they are getting that from but I think working from home works out as about the same cost as commuting into the office every day as you still have to spend money you wouldn’t normally on heating/lighting your home and charging your devices.
We can do better!
I really want to end my working career knowing that our generation has taken the opportunity to accelerate a monumental shift in working styles which was happening anyway but rather than take decades to achieve we can achieve much quicker and bring something positive out of this pandemic. I want my children to have more opportunity to work wherever and whenever they want without sacrificing their own personal life which will secure not only their financial future and increase choice but will go a great distance in avoiding the mental impact on this century old method of working.
This brings me onto the last point the 40-hour working week is a historical arbitrary figure. Most people now perform particular duties/tasks which may or may not take you 40 hours a week to complete. The issue with the 40 hour week is that it assumes productivity and value equals time spent which as we all know is not the case. Some jobs may require more time and some a good bit less. Very few people have roles that take the same time every week to complete their task’s etc so in the future I would like to see the end of the 40-hour working week and a move towards a productivity-based approach where tasks are completed staff do not feel obliged to sit in front of their desk until clocking off time. However, I believe that may be something that the next generation of workforce will have a greater capability to fix.
What do you think?
Author: Dale Scriven