As the pandemic is slowly coming under control, most organizations have started to make plans for their employees to come back to the office. The expectation at many organizations is that the work environment going forward will not be a reflection of past practices, but will incorporate lessons learned during the pandemic from working from home. If you were offered the possibility of working from home, how many days should you ask for? Here are some thoughts…
What Are Others Doing?
It’s always a good idea to look at what others are doing to see where you stand relative to your peers. You can first start by looking internally, within your organization. What are others in your group doing? What is your direct supervisor doing? Then, you can expand and see what people in other groups are doing. From the information that you gather, you can try to rationalize why some people are asking for more time working from home, and why others are asking for less time.
It could be that some of your co-workers have young children or live farther from the office, so would prefer to save on the commute time. Others may live closer to the office or may live in smaller quarters, so would rather “escape” to the workplace.
It could be that some co-workers are more ambitious and think that being seen at work is better for their career. Although the organization issued a guideline offering flexible work arrangements, they may think that there are implications to making certain choices. Being at the office also offers them the possibility to interact with others in person and grow their network.
Lastly, some people are just more extrovert than others, and, given the choice, would rather be outside than at home. They may have no other thoughts or ambitions in the back of their minds.
As you observe and assess what others are doing, it will help you decide what works best for you.
What Matters to You?
The decision to work from home is first and foremost a personal decision, albeit one that needs to be balanced with the exigencies of your employment. While we used to put work first and tried to make our personal lives fit in with whatever time was left over, the pandemic brought a new reality. We saw how vulnerable we all are and how spending quality time with the ones we love matters. The pandemic forced us to go back to our core values and assess the rest in function of those values.
Thus, a shift happened in our collective mind. While we have no choice but to accept how frail and vulnerable we are when faced with the wrath of nature, we don’t have to lay low when it comes to societal constructs. It’s no longer about “work takes priority,” but rather about how to put work and life side by side and see if there’s a way to optimize both.
What Are the Possible Implications of Working from Home?
The decision to work away from the office means that your organization may need less space and therefore may reduce its office footprint. For instance, instead of occupying three floors in your building, your organization may only need to occupy two floors. It may implement a hoteling system where you no longer have a fixed desk, but have to share with others. If the idea of having a dedicated work space at the office is important, you may want to reconsider working from home, or may choose to work from home only one day a week.
With the loss of a dedicated work space comes the prospect that, over time, you may fade away or become just one employee amongst many. Would you then become more at risk of being let go next time there is a reorganization?
What about salary increases and other employment benefits? Would employers cut back using the pretext that some employees who decide to work from home have a lower cost of living?
These are all valid concerns. Flexibility comes at a price. The coming years will see employers and employees battle over what it involves. Cost savings for organizations may not necessarily trickle down to their employees? More or less productivity? What about loyalty? Time will tell. The idea of added flexibility does tend to negate the traditional employer-employee relationship. Are we drifting away from that idea and sliding toward a growth in self-employment? The trend was already well entrenched even before the pandemic.
What About Your Career Ambitions?
As mentioned earlier, there is a valid point to be made that being at the office may be better for your career progression. As you move up the ladder, personal relationships matter more. Interacting with others at work, attending meetings in person, going out for lunch with co-workers, these are all ways that others can get to know you better, know the type of person that you are, and know the type of leader that you might become. While it is also possible to connect online using the various tools now at our disposal, we can all agree that adding a technological layer to our interactions may not be the best way to build relationships.
The above is not to say that working from home will necessarily limit your career ambitions. We are all different and all organizations are different. Even if you work from home one or two days a week, you may still be able to find ways to shine and make the most of your time while at the office. It is for you to reflect on your ambitions, your strengths, and be creative in how to approach your career. You set your own rules.
Work life balance has always been an issue, and may always remain an issue. Therefore, as we re-enter the workforce, we will need to adapt and keep an open mind. There may be more adjustments down the road as organizations assess how well people are reintegrating into the workplace. Take care of yourselves and stay sharp.