With office workers rightly being told to work from home during the coronavirus crisis, employers seem very keen to pass on tips for how to do it. Interestingly, the people who do it regularly are rarely asked for their advice. So here are some thoughts and tips for employers as well as new home workers.
Tip No. 1 for managers: trust your staff. They probably know how to do their job and don’t need micromanaging or check-ins every 20 minutes. Timetabled calls and clear plans are fine – everyone welcomes clear direction and constructive review.
Tip No. 1 for new home workers. It’s OK to mute notifications. If you are lucky enough to be able to get into a state of flow whilst working, you can do without the buzz and distraction of chat messages. Every interruption is going to take about 20 minutes to recover from.
Tip No. 2 for managers. Don’t be frightened that your lack of direct supervision will make you irrelevant or in some way invalidate your purpose. If you are any good at management, you will be respected more by trusting and empowering your team.
Research shows that empowerment results in better business outcomes (my good friend Dr Craig Knight – @TheBritishPsych – can tell you more about that). You might find your team becoming even more productive and you will be a hero.
Of course, if you do want to micromanage and over monitor under really stressful times, your team’s performance will drop, you will lose respect and credibility and will rightly be considered an arse.
Tip 2 for home workers. Put yourself and family first. You will find a way to work and come up with routines that will work for you. The complications of suddenly becoming home educators don’t help and it may take a week or two to adapt. At the end of this, managers and workers might want to rethink the working dynamic. This is an opportunity to learn a lot about individual working styles and how to accommodate them for the benefit of all.
If homeworking turns out to be more successful than traditional managers hope, then physical offices are going to be much more like co-working spaces than the battery farms of now – free-range humans, having tasted freedom and flexibility might be reluctant to return to the old ways. It has been said that the mistake Churchill made at the end of WW2 was that he assumed that successful wartime leadership would be rewarded by a return to the status quo ante. It wasn’t.
There was a social revolution then. There may be a workplace revolution in the autumn.
Evolution is often a gradual process, but massive change applies the greatest selection pressure. Those that can adapt and adjust to new circumstances will fill the voids left by the dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurus rex was top of the tree once.
Tip No.3 for managers: don’t be T. rex!