Distance Working Does Not Work Well 

We have all been plunged into distance working because of Covid-19. Working from home has been forced upon us and it appears that the media and many  experts are claiming that this is the best thing since the invention of the printing press – but is it?

If distance working is so great then why was it not introduced years ago? The number of people who were doing distance working has always been small and mainly available for people who can work in a self-contained bubble without the need to meet colleagues and customers every day. 

After so many months it is pretty clear that the great majority of us really do not want to have to work from home. We now understand that the possibility of the daily commute in a crowded bus, train or in a car on congested roads is more appealing than spending the day in front or a screen on table in the bedroom, in the cellar or in a small spare room. 

Most of us now understand that an office has a vibrant buzz where ideas can be swapped, stories told, where chance meetings can take place, where interesting ideas or gossip are passed along the line around the coffee machine…

Do you really enjoy the formal 10:00h Teams meeting that last for 3 hours with dozens of Big Letters on the screen identifying the others who are probably muted and not even listening? 

How many meetings have had half of the group sitting around a table at the office and the rest of us are on Zoom or Teams. The ones around the table can hear each other but you can only hear one person sitting at the table because he is the only one sitting in front of the microphone!

Do you really listen to the talkative types who dominate the calls and are the first to answer questions thrown out by the bosses – just like the “smart Alecs” at school? 

And then there is the question of clothing… track suits and jeans are fine for the weekend, but quickly wear out after five days. It is good to feel smart, but dressing up for home office is sad like eating alone in a nice restaurant… We are social animals not loners, and we need to belong and assert our identities. That is so difficult when you are sitting in the kitchen after a couple of 2 hour sessions with a bad connection.

… and at the end of the day you are still in your jeans and t-shirt dulled by boredom, or screaming children. You just do not feel like going to the gym (it is closed) or for a walk, (its dark outside) or for a drink (the local pub is empty)…

But there are advantages, sometimes, but they are less common and have shorter half lives than the disadvantages. For instance some Teams meetings are infinitely better than a long trip to another city or country. Sitting in car, in a train, or in a plane is not the best way to spend the day especially if it means an early departure and late arrival home the same day. On the other hand a face-to-face meeting normally provides a million opportunities to deal with a difficult customer or to solve a difficult problem. You can observe your customer’s face, to gauge his or her preferences and attitudes more easily when they are sitting in front of you… and never underestimate a direct meeting with a customer – these meetings can determine the future of your business – for better or worse. In today’s markets you cannot ever be sure about another person if you have never get to meet them in person. 

You may also enjoy spending more quality time with your wife, partner or children, but again after a six month dose of working from home, most of us would feel a sense of relief to be let free at the office even though you will be sitting in the same space at that boss.

But in the end, most of us would agree that there is so much to be said for the office – it is a place designed for working, for discussion, for sales, for innovation, for politics, and for defining you identity. You can be sure that we will all be back soon… and that will be a relief.

Photo: Microsoft Teams

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