When lockdown hit, working from home was the instant hero—the little silver lining to Covid life. Everyone was raving about the benefits of flexibility, no tiring commutes, and of course, endless opportunities to log on to Zoom calls in sweatpants (maybe even with a little tipple in that coffee mug around happy hour time). But six months in, I hear a lot of folks changing their tune. Feelings of isolation, technological limitations, and the lack of a proper office space can be grating, especially over time.
One colleague who initially told me working from home gave them more time to get work done without distraction came to me just this week saying, “I actually want to get back to the office. I miss the social aspect. I feel like I’m on an island and not connected to what’s going on with the business.” Another requested to work in the office because the bandwidth in their home is unreliable and they couldn’t afford to have a blip while running a big virtual meeting. A team member of mine requested to go back in to the office because their studio apartment has no desk—they’d been working from bed most of the time.
So, is the work-from-home honeymoon finally over?
Circumstances are different for everyone, but I’m hearing the tide turning for many of the professionals I talk with every day. I believe we’re missing out on four critical areas in a remote working setup.
1. Sparks of innovation
Without those water-cooler interactions or time to lap the office halls throughout the day, we’re genuinely missing out on opportunities to innovate. Working from home eliminates the run-ins we encounter at the office every day—those little conversations that spark ideas we didn’t expect until they happened.
In the pre-WFH days, I might run into someone from a different department grabbing coffee in the break room and learn a lot from a simple, “hey, what’s going on?” Maybe they’d tell me they just shifted resources in a new direction because XYZ is trending like it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread. Then maybe I’d realize I should investigate XYZ, too, and apply my own resources to market it. But I wouldn’t have known about it, made that market-led connection, or launched a new campaign, if I hadn’t had that casual run-in.
We are losing potential ideas and revenue-building opportunities by limiting our circles of interaction.
2. Rapport building
Remember big relationships? The building blocks of advancing our projects and our careers? Those are much harder to build from home. One way my marketing team has succeeded throughout this Covid era was because we’ve sustained existing relationships. Creating new ones is next to impossible. And while it’s great that we’ve made some new hires in a challenging environment, it requires a lot of extra effort on everyone’s part not just to onboard them, but to do the important work of building rapport with team, company, and management.
3. Well-being check-ins
Have you ever noticed that something’s wrong or off with a teammate just by looking? When we can see how a person enters a room, sits or slumps in a chair, or looks sad or worn out, it’s easy to reach out. When we’re all virtual, there’s no opportunity to assess nonverbal cues from our colleagues, so it’s much harder to know when they need emotional support.
4. A start and stop to the workday
Working remotely makes it harder to switch on and off. When we walk through the office doors, it’s easy to get in the zone. Likewise, when we walk out, we transition to our life outside work. Without those physical barriers to remind us, and with little computers in our pockets at all times, it’s easy to be “on” when you should be able to relax. We’ve all seen the email pop up on our phones at 8pm. Instead of replying “cool, I’ll send the deck to you first thing tomorrow” a lot of us just flip open our laptops, find the deck, and send it. Some people are better than others at having a beginning and end to the workday, but working from home makes it harder to set those boundaries.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly benefits to working from home—and some professions seem to be made for it (ask some of my freelancers). But, for many of us, the act of reporting to an office gives us opportunities we’re missing right now. It’s hard to invent the future when working from home puts all the momentum into the present.