Does “working from home” really work?

In March 2020, the IDO team saw our typical way of working drastically change. Many people around the world were forced to pivot from being in an office setting to exclusively working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I, distinctly, remember in the height of work from home/e-learning stress, having an embarrassing moment during a Zoom meeting caused by my kids being kids, in the background. I tearfully told my co-workers, “I never realized I liked working at work so much!” followed by a good laugh.

We observed this new, strange-to-us way of working for a few months. In June 2020, we cautiously re-opened our office with safety protocols that would stand up to government standards and the team slowly began to trickle back to in-office presence. We started with scheduled days for no more than 3 associates in the office at one time and gradually increased our working time at the office together by the end of 2020. We also eventually got back to on-site, client meetings and were able to conduct in-person site visits yet again – as it is today. However, the collateral damage was that we all got Zoom fatigue, and some experienced social anxiety because of the pandemic. We all were tired of being cooped up. We all were tired of “Marie Kondo-ing” our homes. Even our pets were sick of us! And despite our weekly team Zoom happy hour to connect, laugh, and have a drink or two, by the end of 2020 we all were READY to get back to in-person even if we had to wear hazmat suits to work!

Reflecting on this evolution of how we’ve got the work done in the last two years, I’m first amazed and proud of our team. I also think about several pros & cons of working from home – ways it’s impacted our lives for the good and bad!

First – culture! You know you’ve got a good thing going when you look forward to being with your coworkers, collaborating, teaching them, and learning from them! Although we did enjoy some of the previously mentioned Zoom happy hours and coffee talks when we were all remote, staying connected and focused was difficult! But we did it!

Second – work/life balance! Working from home with less commuting allowed me to get into a routine of daily morning workouts (now I’m wondering how I had the discipline to do that) for the good part of a year, cook/eat dinners at a respectable hour, and be free of the daily commute stress. Balance is key and despite the pandemic being a very scary time, it forced everyone to ACTUALLY balance work and life (sometimes for the first time). This skill is mastered by our European friends that take the time off to balance and recharge despite heavy workloads. Many of those on the IDO team enjoyed this aspect the most during the pandemic as their lives are “on the go” so often, that they rarely had time to stop.

Third – ease of client site visits! These were made more difficult/less timely while largely working from home and often had to be planned much further out/into a timeslot that worked with the day’s other meetings.

Fourth – focus work! Working from home does provide a great setting for focused, individual work to occur. E-mails/phone calls/Teams messages/texts will still pop up, but the lack of in-person communication on those days can mean a quiet environment with fewer distractions. However, for those juggling e-learning and/or babies at home, focus work was a hard skill to master during the day, but the balance allowed them to shift their schedules as needed. This probably was one of the greatest advantages of working from home during this time.

As I evaluate these pros and cons, I have to say I cannot fully recommend 100% remote working or 100% traditional in-person work but rather a mix of both. Probably the best evolution that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic for work styles is the wide acceptance by many industries of the option to work from home and acceptance of the need for flexibility. We are back to normal day-to-day activities inside and outside of the office and would estimate that 80% of associates’ time is now spent back in the office thanks to the change in working styles during the pandemic. It is uplifting to be in person with my team, but it is also amazing to walk right into my home office with a hot mug of coffee first thing in the morning and get to work (once in a while)!

Written by Lee Boyland