Consequences of HOME OFFICE as THE NEW NORMAL

June 24, 2021
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By Jana Martinová, Managing Partner Bratislava & Prague at Accord ECE & an AltoPartners Founding Partner

I am managing a team of 8-10 not attending our office any more on a regular basis since 2020. As of today, they are more or less reluctant trading their newly gained liberty against regular office presence, and I’ve been tempted by the idea of NO OFFICE instead of HOME OFFICE.

The pros and cons of abolishing the office made me aware of the importance of our common workplace and aware of the threats organizations accepting GENERALISED HOME OFFICE will soon face.

I invite you to think about YOUR OFFICE not as the place you have to commute to daily, but as a place of:

  • SOCIALISATION & INTEGRATION, where people from very different places, cultures, social environments and families are coming together to create new teams. Sharing a common purpose or at least a common activity, they grow into team roles they would have no chance to take in their families or private environment. Just think of the pride and liberation of a generation of women breaking out of their “home-office” as housewives. Think also about of discussions at home during the previous year.: whose work is more important ? Who should take care of home-schooling, household?

  • EQUAL WORKING CONDITIONS: avoiding discrimination, we are supposed not to ask colleagues about age, origin and family. We never had to ask them for their housing conditions, as they were sharing the same office rooms once they arrived at work. How many of them have their own office, desk or seat working from home? How many have a well working internet connection? Home office is for those who can afford it, so it is discriminatory.

  • LEARNING ON THE JOB and GROWING: whoever has integrated new team-members since 2020 knows how time-consuming and fragile the process of SHARING KNOWLEDGE AND KNOW-HOW has become since the generalization of HOME-OFFICE. Smart e-onboarding tools have been developed, but they cannot replace the live immersion in teams in an office.

  • SOLIDARITY and MUTUAL SUPPORT. Unlike applications or machines, the strength of cooperation between people lies not in the “perfect process”, but in their ability to adapt to changing environments and complement each other. There is a balance of giving and receiving expected and usually achieved by people working together physically in one place.

This reads like publicity for a paid school, training or coaching program. In reality, it is what you get paid for as an employee, because your employer is profiting from it too.

Let’s look at motivations of employees preferring HOME-OFFICE to office work:

  • Avoid LONG COMMUTING HOURS: actually, in a market with almost full employment (Czech Republic), this is a personal and not a professional choice. If commuting is becoming a burden, employees usually change either their job or their location.

  • HIGHER EFFICIENCY due to a quieter environment and less interaction. Each of us will find himself in such situations regularly, but if an employee is focused exclusively on this kind of activity, he/she should consider working as a freelancer.

  • FREEDOM in working hours and work schedule: this is an apparent advantage when taking care of small children or family, and it usually turns into a nightmare after a while or into inefficiency, depending on the level of self-management of the concerned employee. It also applies only to activities not depending on the interaction with and responsiveness of others.

The last year has shown that we can handle the “status quo” of a mature team by generalized HOME-OFFICE in exceptional circumstances such as the pandemic and also due to a long extra-mile run by managers or teachers. Accepting the Home office as the NEW NORMAL, however, may move us back to the times of Silesian weavers called “click-workers” today, and maybe to “machine breakers” tomorrow.

HOME-OFFICE is an organizational issue and not an “employee benefit”. Therefore, it should be managed by team leaders and direct managers rather than by HR or left to the employee’s own preference.

At this point, it does not seem realistic to move back to the working habits before the pandemic. And of course, employees should be given the opportunity to accomplish certain tasks from their home (leading to a more flexible office approach anyway).

However, if HOME-OFFICE is generalized and becomes the NEW NORMAL, it may go hand in hand with fading cohesion of teams, in companies and society. In the end, today’s employees will pay for it rather than their employers.

Those pledging for the HOME-OFFICE as a rule should ask themselves about their motivation to work for and be part of a team.