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Work From Home vs. Office: Productivity and Wellbeing

Work From Home vs. Office: Productivity and Wellbeing

Work from home vs. office is a really interesting and hot topic, especially for people who are faced with the possibility of working from home versus the office. Of course, this option doesn’t exist for many workers. For instance, for those who work in health care, manufacturing, or retail, working from home is not logistically possible. But for those who have the possibility, the next question is, which is better when choosing work from home vs. office?

My husband/business partner and I run an international business consulting firm. And a couple of years ago (along with so many others) we were abruptly thrown into the work-from-home vs. office challenge and it wasn’t even a choice. To add to the excitement, we have family on 3 continents and we’ve been working as Digital Nomads for the last 3 years making home offices in Singapore, China, Australia, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Clearly, we have totally embraced the Work From Home (or WFH) option (even though our “home” is wherever we lay our 两个头 or hang our sombreros). And while the topic of working from home has been surfacing as a Human Resources discussion for decades, after “that thing that happened” to the world over the last couple of years, the world has kinda been pushed into the pool. And, having 5 siblings, I learned as a kid that if you get pushed into the pool, the best thing to do is JUMP!

Advantages & Disadvantages of Work from Home vs. Office

There are some obvious advantages that are in every list of work from home vs. office; like less commute time, fewer conversations at the water cooler, fewer interruptions, better work-life balance, more exercise, more time for hobbies, etc. And on the flip side, there’s a list of disadvantages of working from home vs. office; for instance, poor access to information, too many distractions at home, lack of face-to-face supervision and collaboration, and social isolation. In fact, the same aspects that are comforting about working from home are the very things that can become counter-productive. Procrastination can become a habit, or worse since you never “leave the office”, you may easily find yourself overworking.

There is somewhat of an illusion that working from home vs. office automatically results in greater productivity. Many popular polls indicate that the majority of people feel that they are much more productive when working from home. However, that feeling needs to translate into actions that produce a steady stream of quality outputs.

What’s better? Work from home or office?

The question is, what’s better? work from home or office? It’s kind of like asking, what’s better? working in a blue shirt or a green shirt? Because although the place is indeed one factor, it is not THE distinguishing factor. And it’s not even in the top 3 factors!

Let’s first define “better”. Because “better” needs to meet the needs of the Worker AND the Organization. And in reality, the aims are (or, rather, should be) the same. Let’s take the location of work or office out of the picture for a minute and focus on the overall agreement between the Organization and the Worker. The Organization has a need for something to be done – some kind of output. And the organization will provide compensation and the structure to work within. The Employee agrees to work within that structure to deliver that output. And that exchange must be a win-win which means that there must be a healthy balance of Productivity and Well-being.

So if the location isn’t the main factor for Productivity and well-being, what are the main drivers? Whether we are working from the Office or WFH, the fundamental drivers of Productivity and Well-being are the same.



The top 3 drivers that determine the winner of work from home vs. office are Goals, Roles, and Processes

1 Strong Goal: A shared understanding of what a good job looks like.

It’s not enough to work hard. People can work extraordinarily hard, but without clarity and specifics about what they are working towards, the hard work hardly has a chance to materialize into something meaningful. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”. Whether you’re the manager or the worker, whether it’s an office or Work From Home scenario, the most fundamental driver is a clear understanding of what a good job looks like. And this must be defined in a way that there is little to no ambiguity about the quality and productivity.

For example, if you are a Salesperson, your measurable Goal might be a Closed Sales Revenue for a specific Product in a particular Region in a specified timeframe. If you are a blogger, your Goal might be the number of Page Views, Traffic by Channel, or Time Spent on the Page. But, what if there were no specific goals established and the Salesperson made 500 calls and attended 50 meetings this month making huge new contacts in a particular region? And then months later in a 1:1 meeting with the manager, he or she receives a mediocre performance rating? Since the work hadn’t been translated (yet, anyway) into specific goals, and especially if the manager has no visibility of the daily work of the employee, it can easily turn into a lose-lose. In a remote working environment, managers have very little opportunity to observe how hard we work. And in a way, this is a really good thing! It encourages us to clarify and create a measurable description of what a good job looks like – which is what every worker needs to know. And this is absolutely critical for a successful WFH scenario.


2 Clear Roles: Agreement on what is and is not part of each role

With the Goals clarified, the next step is to ensure that the leaders and each individual on the team understand their role. What is in the scope of my role and what is not? This is such a common area where both leaders and workers make assumptions.

For example, if I am a Technical Support Rep, my job is to review tech support Tickets and resolve the issues. Is it also my job to create reports to show the volume and categories of issues? Is it part of my role to meet with the software engineers to make recommendations? Is it my job to create and deliver presentations to leadership? To train new employees?

This may sound like an HR function to create the Job Description. But it’s much more than that. Clarifying roles, when done well, is a conversation, a dialogue, and a negotiation between leadership and the individual team members to ensure that the team is aligned on who is doing what. Otherwise, we are at high risk of tasks falling through the cracks as well as needlessly duplicating efforts. And again, in a WFH scenario, we have limited visibility to recognize when this happens until two people show up to a meeting having both created reports showing the same data, or worse, nobody shows up at all.

It’s important to understand that teams cannot be held accountable. Only individuals can be held accountable. And one of the greatest benefits of having clear roles is that we establish a foundation for holding ourselves and each other accountable. In a team where roles are clear, people are open to feedback, and that feedback is in the form of facts, not feelings. Having accountability means that we can do a much better job of managing expectations, boosting productivity, and increasing employee morale.

Clear roles also provide indirect benefits. It helps to prioritize work, and as an incentive to provide good service, it leads to better overall process performance by fostering good relations between departments.

At many companies, it can feel like hundreds of miles between departments, whether working on location or remotely. As the process is working, there are multiple hands involved, and if these hands are not tightly coordinated, it will cause repetitive and significant issues. Picture a small or start-up organization working together in a single office. The whole company typically starts out on the same team with a high degree of alignment and collaboration. If they do it right, that collaboration continues as the organization grows. But that doesn’t just happen through luck. That alignment is largely the result of a conscious decision of who’s doing what and how to work together, a practice that evolves and continues as the organization grows.


3 Efficient Processes: Streamlined and effective ways of working

No matter where we work, our ways of working should create clarity and efficiency, not chaos. Our processes need to support the efficient creation of the output and it needs to support collaborative problem-solving. Both are aspects that can be big deficiencies of remote working. Especially with the multitude of applications and various ways of working. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to solidify a uniform process so that vital tasks, team information, and communication can happen efficiently instead of a haphazard process that has us tripping all over each other in the cloud.

With important work and conversations happening across video calls, email, and instant messages and with data stored in numerous applications, confusion arises as teams are unable to understand what’s going on without a dizzying and time-consuming search for information. Especially as various functional teams rely on separate apps, communicating critical information requires a deliberate focus on unified ways of working. Aligning your organization under a system of good business habits can calm the chaos brought on by too many apps or too much process variation in your business.

A research paper called From Work Chaos to Zen: How Application Overload Redefines the Digital Workspace, reveals that among 2,000 workers from the US, UK, and Australia surveyed, almost 70% wasted as much an hour of every day just searching for information that is trapped in the volume of communication apps and channels. This study shows that an average worker juggles about four communication apps every day, which is pretty much like having four conversations at once. Imagine what it’s like for the 20% of the respondents who said they use six or more!

On top of the communication apps, the average worker jumps between apps as frequently as 10 times each hour, which is disruptive to any kind of workflow and can easily cause people to lose their train of thought. It’s easy to see how each individual app solves a particular problem, but when stepping back and looking at the whole forest, we can see how the whole process can be riddled with redundancies, inefficiencies, and wasted time and effort.

To avoid application creep, assess your tools and apps and define the purpose and use of each. As managers and employees, we can easily become increasingly distracted by those very tools that are supposed to be creating a more efficient workplace. It’s clearly time to create a better way to manage our knowledge resources.

Read more: Problems are Funny

Work from home vs. office provides many of us with the freedom to create that work-life balance that we all desire. When working from home, we are not bound to the alarm clock and rush hour traffic and we are not tied to the confines of a set workspace for a continuous number of hours. We can wake up before the sun rises and get a couple of hours of productive work in before the kids wake up. We can stop for a while to go for a run with our dogs and clear our heads, making space and creating an organized plan for the day while absorbing the sunshine. We can come back to our comfortable home office, surrounded by our favorite people and things, and be productive in our job. And we can check our emails and respond to our colleagues in different time zones after dinner to ensure that they can keep it all going while we sleep. That’s what Work from home vs office offers us.

But like anything else, we have to create it in a way that we can work at peak performance. So that we can enjoy the space to be creative and productive. So that we can be fulfilled and enjoy all the aspects of our life without residual work stress and frustration spilling into our “free” time. To achieve this, we have to ensure that we are working with solid Goals, Roles, and Processes. It’s such a de-motivator to do work that ends up being unimportant because our goals weren’t clear. Or to spend 2 days working on a presentation and then finding out that someone else already put one together. Or to spend 25% of your day looking for info that should be at your fingertips. It’s like having kitchen cabinets full of organizing containers that come tumbling out when the door is opened. Or labels on all of your garage storage, but tiny screws are in the “3-inch Nails” jar.

Our focus should be on creating a productive and well-balanced workspace regardless of whether the work happens in a hospital room, behind the check-in counter of a hotel, an auto shop, or working from home on a balcony in Sydney, Australia with a furry animal on your lap.




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