Executive search firms are warning that companies persisting with a five-day work week may have to do with “leftover talent” as candidates may refuse to join or leave soon after.
Do we blame that virus again for this? Have all of us been spoilt by the commute-free experience of working from home?
When the WFH-WFO debate first hit the headlines, the virus villain was not part of the vocabulary at all. Instead, it was Marissa Mayer, the then new CEO of Yahoo who had garnered all the hits for abolishing the company’s work-at-home policy and ordering everyone to get back to the office.
Then, as now, what the headlines have missed is that I have been at home and productively working for more than a quarter century.
Then, as now, what really matters is not your location but if you feel at home where you work.
Home, work home
In my early days, entrepreneurship was a euphemism for glorious, uncertain, nail-biting unemployment. I would often land up in the office (he had one!) of a friend. I would pretend to have just come from a client meeting; he would pretend to be rushing off to another. After both of us got comfortable enough to shed our masks, the first question he asked was, “How do you manage to stay awake at home? I could never bring myself to leave the bed. That is why I splurged on this *&%#$ office.”
A young manager once sat me down to have a chat. When I told him I was not a management graduate, he looked at me as if I had just crawled out of the coffee vending machine. Just to make him comfortable, I assured him I came to office only two days a week, that too for a few hours. “It is just not professional,” he burst out.
My job of writing used to place me in offices full of interesting people for several hours a week. They are rarely so accommodating today. But I am fortunate to be still working with some very intelligent people (some of them are so good they reject my work and then offer tea to make me feel better).
I must understand all dimensions of an issue before I can attempt to resolve it for my client through my writing. That conversation used to happen in the office or, more commonly, in the conference room. Now, we meet on the monitor.
As for the actual writing, I have always done it at home. Which means I have always spent more hours at home than in various offices. Which makes the housemaid throw deadly looks at the leech shamelessly living off his poor wife, who must trudge to work every day to keep the family alive and pay the servant’s salary.
John Sullivan thinks I have the mix right. That old New York Times report about the Yahoo missive quotes this professor of management at San Francisco State University, who runs a human resource advisory firm. “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”
Now you know what I mean when I insist I am “innovatively productive”.
Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet what collaboration meant for Steve Wozniak, the co-creator of Apple: “The ability to share a donut and a brainwave with his laid-back, nonjudgmental, poorly dressed colleagues—who minded not a whit when he disappeared into his cubicle to get the real work done.”
No client has yet shared a donut with me. They have been generous with the brainwaves, though. I lug it all and disappear into my cubicle—my home.
In the same book, Susan Cain talks about Pixar Animation Studios, where “the sixteen-acre campus is built around a football-field-sized atrium housing mailboxes, a cafeteria, and even bathrooms. The idea is to encourage as many casual, chance encounters as possible. At the same time, employees are encouraged to make their individual offices, cubicles, desks, and work areas their own and to decorate them as they wish.”
So, it is about creating little spaces where you feel “at home” in the office. That is exactly what I have been saying. You need a prudent mix of efficient home and homely office for optimum productivity.
Be anywhere, but work
I recently shared this idea with an entrepreneur, making it sound as if I had thought about it all by myself, well before time, even before the virus.
This company was among the many hit hard by work-from-home while their customers all seemed to have gone home.
When the skies cleared a bit, they experimented with a smiling come-to-work-when-you-can, later switching to a growling you-better-show-up-or-else. They went on to lose a bunch of people. Now they use work-from-anywhere-but-please-work-for-us as their prime recruitment strategy.
That reminds me. I have to prepare a presentation for them. I will start on that as soon as I finish chopping the vegetables. Ever since my wife restarted going to work, our maid has adopted a may-come-may-work strategy.