Never one to miss a self-serving PR opportunity, Twitter has announced that its staff can work from home ‘forever’, writes Alan Jenkins Managing Director of Quadrant2Design.
But what if you’re not an immensely wealthy Californian tech company, earning billions for doing very little? What if your business is like the majority of others; great at what you do, but facing stiff competition within a crowded marketplace.
In a competitive industry, every advantage counts. In that context, does it make sense to have all your colleagues working from home?
Of course, working from home sounds great. And it’s the future, right? Everyone says so. But does it stack up in the real world, for most businesses? I think not.
Suspend your shock that someone would argue otherwise, and let’s examine the nine contrarian reasons for NOT working from home.
Mental health issues
For most people, working from home is being kept in isolation. Isolation is bad for your soul and damaging to your mental health. We’re social animals, and we need to be with other people. That’s why the most dangerous and violent prisoners get solitary confinement. Is that what we want for our colleagues?
Social life and relationships
Many people depend on the social interactions inherent in going into work. While we don’t like everyone we work with, nonetheless we talk, gossip, laugh and (sometimes) cry with each other. But we get along, bound together by our common purpose and a sense of camaraderie. Oh… and guess what, 15% of us will meet our life-partners at work (sorry HR but it’s true).
If you believe you can communicate just as well by email or WhatsApp, think about some of the real howlers of misunderstandings that occur due to a misplaced apostrophe or predictive text! And consider that when you’ve typed an email, you’ll have used 100 words, when ‘face-to-face’ half would suffice. This is because nuance, meaning and understanding can be best conveyed when talking in person, face to face.
If we’re honest, most of us can kiss-goodbye to motivation when we work from home. The simple act of getting up at an appropriate time, getting showered and dressed for work, puts us in the right frame of mind for work. I wonder how many ‘work-at-homers’ end up in their jim-jams all day watching repeats of Friends? Just saying!
We’ve all been there; you’re on that important conference call with a customer when the cat jumps onto the dining table (err… sorry your desk) and throws-up into your keyboard. Not pleasant and very off-putting. As well as feline-related distractions you can add noisy children, the wife/husband, daytime TV and your irritating neighbours.
At this point, it’s fashionable to say that so much more gets done when you work from home. Oh yes, productivity is soaring to unprecedented levels. But is it? Oh, there are plenty of spurious surveys on the internet, usually with the preamble ‘a recent survey says…’ but never any real hard data. And if there was actual evidence for increased productivity, why aren’t bosses demanding that we all work from home?
Most businesses are a sophisticated ‘machine’ of inter-dependent human beings working together to achieve a common end, the manufacture of a product, the supply of a service, or sometimes both. My company, Quadrant2Design is a good example. We create exhibition stands for trade shows. Our people are designers, managers and production people with overlapping functions and responsibilities. Each person’s work directly affects the next, which is why constant face-to-face discussion and communication is vital.
The best companies to work for have an influential culture. People mould them, and they, in turn, mould people. You’re proud to be part of the company culture, and it enriches your life, no matter whether you’re a high-flyer or a ‘nine to fiver’. People who work from home are denied the rewards of taking an active part in this very human experience, leaving them alienated and disconnected. Why be so cruel to your colleagues?
Of course, if you’re an engineer, a refuse collector or a doctor, you’re too busy doing a real job, to worry about any of the above. What the Twitters of this world don’t realise is that for the vast majority of people, ‘working from home’ simply does not come into the equation, and never will.
Alan Jenkins is the Managing Director of Quadrant2Design, an exhibition design company located in Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom.