Working From Home Experiment Works … with a Little Work
Last February, seven years after Melissa Mayer (the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo!) told employees there was no more working from home, Time magazine dubbed the country by country pandemic SIP (shelter in place) rules as the world’s largest WFH (work from home) experiment.
Now, don’t you feel special?
Neither do we.
But it proved to be an experiment that worked, especially for the M&E industry.
People didn’t have to be in the same building, didn’t have to constantly meet face to face to keep business moving and people felt more productive in at least selective isolation.
Shows went remote. News teams went remote. Production/post teams went remote.
Some speculated at the time that Mayer’s ultimatum was less a condemnation about working remote or even a distrust of employees — if you can’t see them you don’t know that they’re working — but rather a devious way to reduce costs by having people quit rather than cutting staff.
It didn’t help Yahoo! much.
In this go-around, after the months of struggling with the need stay at home and be productive, people found they were able to adjust their home and professional activities. They developed a daily work routine that really works.
Those who found it comfortable to do their work at home were primarily knowledge workers – post production folks, consulting, research, hardware/software engineering, marketing, legal, finance/financial services, customer engagement and similar positions — that required little more than a laptop, smartphone and Wi-Fi to do their job.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification but…it’s a start.
Having suddenly been put in the position of having to tell people to stay away from the office and the set, management and employees discovered what many consultants have known for years … productivity doesn’t suffer and people don’t have to actually be “in the office” to get their work done.
In fact, after carving out a workspace and work schedule that worked for them at home, almost half (48 percent) of the CNBC workforce survey respondents said there was an even higher level of job satisfaction.
Many noted that the “new” office, reduced commute times, added ability to focus on projects/workflow and provided even higher levels of job satisfaction.
In a survey released in April, Robert Half found that lengthy drives or long train rides to work were a major reason for job changes for 23 percent of the respondents–especially in technical/professional areas including Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Miami and New York.
“Commutes can have a major impact on morale; and, ultimately, an employee’s decision to stay with or leave a job,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half. “In today’s candidate-driven market, professionals may not need to put up with a lengthy or stressful trip to the office if there are better options available.”
Even before the pandemic, one of the alternatives offered by an increasing number of organizations was providing remote work.
With the pandemic, remote work even with films and TV shows is becoming a norm.
HPA (Hollywood Professional Association) proved it with their cloud production project coordinated by Jauchim Zell and six teams around the globe.
With people in Hollywood, Dubai, Brisbane, Ulaanbaatar, London and Mexico City the female directors/producers created six great projects.
But to work and work well, it requires more than simply opening up the notebook at the kitchen table.
It requires a strong focus/skillset by employees and management.
To effectively work remotely you have to:
Have the right equipment
- Laptop, computer
- Solid internet access
- Secure remote access to the company’s internal network/intranet
- Corporate email access
- Work phone
Designate a Separate Workspace
Camping out at the kitchen table was fine when you thought this WFH thing was going to be for a couple of days; but if you want it to be something professional and long term, you need to carve out a real office space – a desk with comfortable work height, a supportive/comfortable chair, accessories – a place where you can actually work.
Set Working Hours
Focus. Forget your social media, cleaning the refrigerator, doing laundry, watching TV with the kids. You have professional things to do and need to be even more diligent/protective of your time than you would be at the office. Do the other stuff after “leaving” the office.
Establish Professional Structure
In 2019BC (Before Covid) did you schedule your work week Friday before you left for the weekend or Sunday evening? Do it! Outline your projects, time required, deliverables. Focus on being productive and meeting company/your goals.
Communicate Effectively with Fellow Employees, Managers
Whether you’re managing 20 people or report to someone, email, text or phone/video conferencing replaces face-to-face discussions. Written communications must be clear, concise, focused and … professional. Make certain your communication agrees with the project, the deadline, the objective and the budget (time, money). Stay engaged, keep people engaged. Ask for and give prompt feedback. If you’re gathering input from multiple sources, sort them out, synthesize and circulate so everyone is on the same page.
Whether it’s Zoom, Teams, Webex, Bluejeans or other video conferencing tool, use it regularly to keep everyone connected and focused. All of the services provide plenty of instructions/recommendations on your set up and use. Study, get comfortable with yours because you’ll be using video conferencing for years, even if you return to the office. Video reduces meeting length, builds trust/teamwork and speeds communications.
Ensure Clear Expectations, Be Accountable
Being clear, concise is always important–more so when everyone is focused on their work and “thinks” you/they understand each other. Mind meld only worked in Star Wars and even then, folks had to be in the same room. Communicate issues, questions, responses quickly, clearly, concisely to managers, clients and the team to develop a group solution.
Monitor Your Work Progress Regularly
Even when you were in your physical office, there were times when you looked at your calendar and felt nothing was accomplished. It’s compounded in a WFH environment because you have family, pets around; the bed to make; laundry; cleaning; stuff. There are a full range of time-tracking apps available to monitor/track your productivity. They’re useful for you, your managers and clients, so track your time and make it work for you. They’re excellent for breaking your internet browsing, social media trips and mindless distractions.
Focus, Focus, Focus; Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Managing Remote Staff
Mandated SIP and WFH during the pandemic forced organizations around the globe to quickly learn by doing to ensure work was completed, that productivity didn’t suffer and to ensure there would be a business to return to when the time was right.
Despite periodic missteps and miscommunications, open-minded managers found remote work not only worked but worked well.
Managers quickly found out how good they were at managing by outlining expectations, getting feedback, determining if the expectations were met and fine tuning their communications to improve work product and reduce stress/issues for all concerned.
Micromanaging sucks and is bad for the entire organization.
Monitor progress, provide assistance/support/recommendations and let team members learn from mistakes and succeed … together.
This includes scheduling regular daily or weekly video conference meetings to review short- and long-term projects to keep everyone updated and included in the organization’s progress/success.
Employees appreciate the independence and trust you have in them.
At the same time, remote work isn’t always best for the individual or organization. Address the issues, problems head-on and mutually resolve them.
No one wants to think their work is unimportant or that they were simply forgotten.
For many professional, technical managers and employees, the WFH experiment was successful. Twitter, Square, Google, YouTube and similar organizations told staff members they could work from home for as long as they wanted.
Others have extended the “trial” through the end of the year and then…
Financial, insurance, video production teams, consulting and firms in other industries ventured that housing 5-10,000 people in a few office buildings may be an outmoded concept.
Nationwide, Citi, JP Morgan, Barclays, PwC, Accenture, Deloitte, Bain, Berger, Barclays, BofA, and others that worked through the pandemic seriously questioned and weighed the need for them to have such a large global real estate footprint.
During their earnings calls Barclays’ and Morgan Stanley’s CEOs as well as a number of tech executives also noted that by loosening, relinquishing the standard office mentality they could also hire the best individuals for specific jobs regardless of where they lived.
Having them work in their home office in their community could result in better job satisfaction, stronger company commitment, lower the cost of hiring and possibly reduce salary costs.
The cost of relocating and living in NY, CA, Austin, Atlanta and other major city centers is definitely expensive.
Mondelez’s CEO also pointed out, “We’ll just get access to people in different communities, from different backgrounds, who live in different places. So, every measure of diversity — backgrounds and ideology — will enhance our total organization.”
It may sound a little like nirvana, but it isn’t!
There’s isolation, fear of missing out on something, miscommunications and personal stresses that individuals place on themselves to meet every deadline regardless of clock/calendar and difficulty in clearly dividing office/family time.
Successful remote workers are proactive, driven, hardworking and strong communicators. In addition, they need to be confident enough in themselves to know when to ask for assistance, counsel, feedback.
Even though the global experiment was successful by nearly all measures, facetime won’t disappear.
There are times when it’s absolutely necessary.
In addition, some of the best ideas arise from casual conversations.
You made it through the pandemic.
You made it through the global WFH experiment.
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Andy Marken – [email protected] – is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications and industry trends in media & entertainment, as well as consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.