For what seems to be an eternity, we in IT seem to be transfixed by the “Working from Home” is better than “Working from the Office” debate. We have argued over and over like politicians in the House of Commons over Brexit. The simple truth is, it’s a pointless argument that yields no actual result.
Personally, I think the debate is ill-founded on principles that bear no meaning towards working life. This debate takes many forms and in recent times over the past year or so been encapsulated in the “Productivity” form. It seems to have got caught up in the reasoning for using Cloud technology, most particularly Microsoft Teams. When you cut away the hype and fluff, you’ll realise this argument actually could have started way back in the early 2000’s. Back then, you could have worked from home to some degree by using VPN connectivity to save your documents, webmail / IMAP / POP to get your e-mail. Granted this experience compared to today would be somewhat basic and some would actually struggle to cope but the essence of being able to work from home existed irrefutably for some people.
Fast forward to the age of Cloud where technology and in particular communications enable you to work more effectively anywhere it is becoming difficult to always understand the boundary between work and home.
This argument over WFH vs WFO is being promoted as an excuse to adopt technology such as Microsoft Teams more so these days than ever before and it’s distracting from the true value of these technologies, creating tangent arguments that actually have zero impact on what you are trying to achieve in the first place.
The argument should not be about whether it is more productive to work from home over the office, but how this technology empowers your business and more importantly your employees to conduct business in a collectively more efficient manner.
I don’t see Microsoft Teams as Productivity tool. If I did, then I would assume incorrectly that by using Microsoft Teams I am by default going to be more productive as a result.
Microsoft Teams to me is an empowerment tool. It gives me the critical features I need to function in my job at my finger tips on any device I choose from mobile to desktop. It doesn’t matter to me where I am, if I have connectivity and a device to hand it means that most probably I can complete a task being asked of me, regardless of where I am.
I am empowered having this capability in my pocket. It means I don’t need to worry that I left customer site 7 minutes before this phone call, or that someone forgot to ask me a question before I left, I can just reach my phone, laptop or whatever, access what I need and complete a task that would have normally meant waiting until the morning.
You could confuse that with productivity, but it is different. Empowerment comes by having access to the capability that may assist you in being productive. Productivity is the decision you make to use that moment in time for your benefit.
In the above scenario, I was empowered because I have access to Microsoft Teams. I made a personal decision to use that moment in time to action a work related task. That decision was me choosing to direct my efforts towards a work related task and that can be seen as productive use of time towards work.
That said, equally I could have chosen to catch up on Narcos on Netflix whilst sitting on a train and I will deal with that request tomorrow. This is equally productive use of my time because I know getting home I wouldn’t be able to watch it. The fact I chose a different path for that moment of time other than work related, does not make me an unproductive person.
And this is why I believe productivity cannot be measured laterally across your workforce.
The real argument between WFH over WFO is down to lifestyle of your employee. Lets not beat around the bush.
My current role, the Office is 2 hours away from my home. I go to the Office 3 times a week. Each of those days I am up at 5am, in the car by 5.45am and in the Office by 8am. I work until 4pm and by the time I am home it is nearer 7pm. Just in time to give my 11 month old her night time bottle, put her to bed, then read my 4 year old a bedtime story, then say Hi to the Mrs, then have Dinner, take the dog for a walk and then go to bed.
On the 2 days I don’t go to the Office, I get up at 6:30am, have breakfast with my Kids, get them dressed, have a bit of a play, take the eldest to nursery. Sit down at my desk at home for 8:30am with a coffee and in my comfy pants and slippers. Break at 1pm, have lunch with my wife, go back to it, finish at 4:30pm pick eldest up from nursery, sit down as a family for dinner, have a relaxing evening.
The amount of work I do at home within working hours vs the office is more or less the same because I have the tools to do my job regardless of location.
I admit, I prefer working from home over the office because it suits me. It makes my life less stressful and I can balance my time better with the family, they see more of me and I am generally less tired.
I will say on the balance of my time as a whole work and pleasure I am more productive when WFH because I am given the time to be. By productive I mean the hours I save not having to travel to the office I can use better towards benefiting my family rather than hours lost to asphalt and brake lights.
So yes, I agree I am more productive at home overall. It does not mean I produce more bytes sitting at my desk at home vs my desk at the office, which some seem to think this is all about.
That said, there are people that want to come to the office as that’s where they work best. Some may not have dedicated home office space, their home life may be that hectic that coming to the office is the only way they can get stuff done.
Other times it is better to conduct work activities face to face. Even with video and digital whiteboarding, sometimes it cannot replace real human interaction.
How as a business / employer can you measure that as tangible outputs across each working habit? You can’t because it is beyond measurements. You can’t say that Jane is a better employee than Dave because she works from home, or indeed the other way around.
However, if you calculate in employee welfare and retention as a result of encouraging flexible working, then the tangible output from that is you may retain skilled staff making your business platform more stable and experienced which allows you to grow more efficiently as a result.
So WFH for me I see as a personal well being benefit. It doesn’t automatically make me more work-productive that when I am in the Office. In fact if I look at the activities I do in the Office vs at home then on balance stuff tends to happen quicker in the office because I can look the person in the eye and get a decision in a moment. Whereas at home I would probably have to first find that person on Teams, send a chat, arrange a meeting to get the decision.
Instead of the debate over which working strategy is best, cancel the debate it really doesn’t matter.
Instead your goals when deploying technology is all about empowerment to your users and business that gives you increased flexibility to conduct business in ways that perhaps before were harder to achieve.
This of course is my opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, you may have your own and that is fine. In fact it proves my point at the beginning of this post that it really doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day every one is different and what works for one, won’t for another. And if that is the case, how can you enforce that through your workforce? You can’t! All you can do is empower your employees to be as effective as they can be with as much flexibility as you can afford for mutual benefits.
Microsoft Teams, your employee communication and collaboration empowerment tool! 🙂
Mark is an Independent Microsoft Teams Consultant with over 15 years experience in Microsoft Technology. Mark is the founder of Commsverse, a dedicated Microsoft Teams conference and former MVP. You can follow him on twitter @UnifiedVale