“I have a back pain.”
“I don’t have a proper desk.”
“I work in the living room, or the kitchen.”
“I work in the coffee shop.”
Remote working is great. I get it. It allows you certain degree of flexibility and freedom. Usually it’s about space, but some other time it’s about privacy and time flexibility. Love to work in a noisy environment? Check. Love to work in a quiet environment? Also check. Love to work without the hindrance of people poking or taking a peek into your screen? Check.
All these sound perfect if you are either single, living alone, have a proper secluded space (and be rich enough to provide it), or have some other privilege. Yes, working from home (or remotely) is a privilege, take it or leave it.
(Progressive) companies often say they champion remote work, so they say, to deliver the best employee experience and improve productivity. However, I see two sides of this: the responsible side and the reactive side.
The Responsible Side
The responsible companies mandate remote work but also understand some degree, or full degree of responsibility on the company side to deliver the best remote work experience. This includes:
Physical environment: they understand that ergonomics are important to the health and well-being of the employees, even if they are setting up their own workspaces. They set up some remote work allowance, or help furnish some basic furniture or devices, to help with the cost and time to set up a proper work environment. Workplace injury is real — even at home. It can be about back-breaking sitting position because the company doesn’t provide a good environment. Most of the time, it’s also about getting a dedicated room or space at the house without any disturbance from the family members, during work hours. This is a luxury to most people. Basically, companies are renting a space in their employees’ homes.
Psychological environment: they understand that to perform 100%, employees need psychological safety and space. This can be different for different people. It can be a proper way to communicate safely and within proper time slots. Communication through the screen can have multiple impact to wellbeing with different ways to do and receive them. Too many video calls, or too long of a time would impact in productivity and energy level. Slack and other asynchronous communication can induce anxiety, if not used properly or in a proper time. Responsible companies are aware of this and make policies or develop culture accordingly.
The Reactive Side
The purely reactive companies do it because of regulations. They never intend to provide the best remote experience, even if temporary. Even for those companies who are intentional about it, might just use it as an opportunity to provide good branding. They care neither the physical nor the psychological environments.
At the very worst, they just assume everybody will have a space, tech and support to do work from home efficiently, without providing any support themselves… and expect them to perform 100% regardless.
They also micromanage, and expect everyone to be present. While some situations might mandate more delicate management, most of the time we can trust people that we hire. If not, then maybe the hiring process is wrong, or the culture is wrong. This is also reflected in the way communication is done. Is it effective? Does it require a 1-hour meeting just to decide on 2 things? Do they rely on video calls often for different timezones? How do writing & reading culture work in that company?
It’s good that we’re starting to think about flexible working arrangement, but it’s also important that it’s a delicate thin line between personal space (home) and working space (office).