The Micromanager: Working from home under the scrutinizing eye of the watchdog
Photo by Allie / Unsplash

One benefit of 2020's lockdown has been that organisations; especially those that are usually too large for any meaningful inward reflection, have been forced to change how they work day to day.

As someone who spent a large part of their career migrating legacy IT estates to cloud-based systems such as Office 365 and Azure, I could never really understand why organisations didn't look beyond the obvious surface benefits of scalability, reliability and cost. What about people and culture?

The transition from office to home hasn't actually been that disruptive for the majority. Set aside the professions and industries that obviously cannot adapt due to the nature of their work - but think for a moment, about the typical modern day professional.

IT Infrastructure and client devices have been capable of supporting remote working for at least five years. I was delivering Office 365 migrations in 2012. Even back then, Offie 365 was capable of rendering on-premise IT infrastructure largely obsolete, allowing anyone with an internet connection, and a smart device to work and collaborate from anywhere in the world.

There is simply no reason that any professional, who uses a computer to perform the majority of their job has to be sat in an office 40 hours a week.

In my experience, the root cause of this resistance to remote working, comes as most problems usually do, from the top down. Clueless executives operating in a vacuum, imposing backwards policy and making illogical decisions. I found it commonplace to laugh away the regressions, and to just accept the decisions of a self-confessed seemingly proud technophobe. This, for some strange reason was an acceptable excuse to not embrace meaningful change.

We need to effect change, and we need to use the technology that we have had for years to do it. Let's start hammering nails in to the coffin of this dated office culture, and into those individuals that are all too willing to cripple progress and derail meaningful change.

It's not always easy to embrace remote working. I appreciate the difficulty that larger organisations face. However to continue perpetuating a way of working that has stayed very much the same for the past fifty years, isn't going to have any net positives in the long run.  The old ways aren't buttering any more parsnips, and we are in the age of working smarter, not harder.

"But how can I trust what they're doing?!". Well, that's your problem, get over it. Inherent distrust is a bad leadership trait, and not an excuse not to give everyone else some balance in their lives. (Psst - even remotely, you're still allowed to discipline poor performance...)

My advise to any suitable organisation, is to give employees the option to work from home as the new normal.  If an employee can effectively do their job remotely, then frankly, you should be ashamed if you force them to commute in too, and then sit an office for 40 hours a week.

My advise to any  digital business of any size, is too seriously think about what you need in terms of physical space. What role does, could and can technology play in your day to day operations? My definition of a digital business for the sake of this article, is any organisation that does not rely heavily on physical space for things like warehousing, manufacturing and storage.

An office should be towards the bottom of your list of priorities, especially if you're operating in a major city like London. Put a tenth of what you would have spent on extortionate commercial rent in to a cloud-native technology strategy. Then perhaps spend a good portion of the remaining savings on hiring the best people from any where in the world.

We spend a third of our lives at work, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that improving your employees work-life balance is directly associated with their happiness, and has been shown to have profound mental health benefits. Overall, this leads to improved productivity, less stress, better concentration and increased job satisfaction. Weird, huh?.. It's almost as if spending two hours a day on standing room only train commuting back and forth from the office, not to mention the hours and hours sat at your desk in your suit and tie, isn't really anyone's idea of a good time.

With all that said, the office does still have its place.

You're not going to want to have your colleagues pop round to your bedroom or host a customer meeting in your living room are you?. And let's face it, you'll probably get sick of your kids after a few days. You may even find that you like some of your colleagues, and enjoy the face to face working dynamic that you have with them.

But that's where the big wide world comes in...

Maybe your role allows you sit down at a coffee shop for the afternoon? Perhaps there's some really modern shared office spaces around with open plan seating and managed facilities? What if it just makes sense to have a few small hub offices with hot-desks and meeting rooms? Think strategically, perhaps choose a location close to your customers, or in major city. Get some bang for your buck.

I am glad that organisations have been forced to open their eyes too remote working. The genie is out the bottle, but I can't see that is has actually been that big of a deal. Sure, it would have been a lot better if we were actually allowed to leave our homes and enjoy the new time afforded to us. But that's just something to look forward too moving forward, that is if things ever return normal again...

If 2020 is any indication for the future, then who knows if it'll happen, but it looks like going we're going to get humans to Mars within the next 10 years... But can we just take a few steps back and let Dave do the invoicing from home?

How would you use your new work-life balance? Would you shorten that weekend chores list? Mow the grass at lunch? Go for a run in the morning? Do laundry in the middle of a weekday?! The possibilities are endless, now we just need to make them a reality.