The Covid-19 crisis is -literally- changing everything. Children no longer go to school each day, social gatherings from large sports events right down to intimate dinners with friends are banned, and people who have never before cooked a meal are learning their way around the kitchen. Without doubt, no area of life has been more dramatically impacted than work. Millions of hourly workers, in retail, restaurants, and other areas, as well as gig workers, are extremely insecure if not already unemployed. Meanwhile, those with office-based jobs find themselves in the fortunate position of doing work that can be accomplished remotely, while also entering the strange new world of WFH - work from home.
At La Piana Consulting, this is the one aspect of the crisis that is not disruptive. Since our founding in 1998, we have been based in and continuously perfected working from home. Currently, 100% of our colleagues work from their home offices. We thought to share a few of the lessons we’ve learned over the past twenty-two years. Who knows, you may come to love it, as we do, and never want to return to the office, the commute, and everything that goes along with it.
Let’s break this down into three areas, each of which is essential to success at WFH.
Workspace – Some people are lucky enough to have a dedicated home office, which we define as a room with a door that can be closed to the rest of the home. Don’t minimize the importance of that door. Barking dogs can be kept out during important calls, children (and spouses/partners/roommates) can be taught to honor the message that a closed door means “keep out for now,” and stray street or household noises can be minimized. Even if you don’t have a dedicated office, you really need a dedicated space. We used to call this a “desk” but these days it might be one end of a dining table. The key is that each day you find your essentials in the same place. Gone are the days when we needed filing cabinets, but there is still some paper involved in most work, so you’ll need a place to keep it. Once you have your place, make sure others know to respect it. It may be tiny, but it is no longer common space, to be shared with family and roommates. This is your workspace – yours alone.
Work Time – this is one of the toughest adjustments to WFH. In the office, you may have worked long hours, but you also knew when you left, that you had in fact left. WFH means your workspace is ever-present, which allows for enormous flexibility but also presents the possibility of being always on. Conversely, there are a million distractions. You pass by the washer on your way from your workspace to the kitchen in search of lunch and you put in a load – fine. But maybe you also pass by the TV and want to see what’s on – and that may not be fine if it distracts from work. You may find a spouse or roommate also working from home and be reminded of the old adage about a happy marriage: “For better or worse, but never for lunch.”
As a friend once said – “When you work from home, you are completely free to decide which seven days of the week you will work.” This is by far the bigger risk of WFH. Everyone is different. Some people are early risers while others prefer to work late or to take a break for family from 3-7 and return to work afterward. A 9-5 office culture doesn’t allow for variations in workstyle, but WFH does. So, experiment!
What about the P word: Productivity? Throughout our firm’s history, we have managed productivity expectations by setting billing goals for each employee, not by monitoring their coming and going. Doctor’s appointment or parent-teacher conference? Go ahead? Want to take the afternoon off, and see you have no appointments planned? Fine. We don’t care when people work so long as they meet their expectations and are responsive to the needs of colleagues and clients. I realize some of you lack such clear productivity goals, but I think the principle works – hold people accountable for results, not hours.
Work Equipment – When we founded the firm in 1998, I needed a boxy desktop computer, a huge fax/printer/copier, four-drawer file cabinets, a landline phone with conference call capability, bookshelves, and on. Over the years, as the equipment itself got smaller, the number of things needed also became fewer. These days, a laptop, a surface to rest it on, and a wifi-connected printer are about it. This light footprint gives us maximum flexibility to work wherever we may be, whether an office, a hotel room, or, under the current situation, from home. If you normally work in an office, you may not have a business phone at home, but you may have a business cell phone. Most of our team have chosen a cell phone in place of a landline (even using VOIP) given the amount of travel we do under normal circumstances. For the most part, we use Zoom even for one-on-one phone calls, so you may not need a telephone at all.
A couple other random observations:
- With WFH you only need to “dress” for work on top. A decent shirt or blouse and shorts, sweats, or pajamas and slippers is the new business casual.
- Make time to connect with colleagues beyond business calls. The in-person workplace offers plenty of opportunities for chit-chat and socializing. This social connection is essential to working together effectively. In our firm, working virtually, we schedule a monthly Zoom call and hold 3-4 two-day in-person meetings each year.
Hope this helps. Enjoy your forced experiment at working from home, and let me know what you learn about making it work for you.