WFH: Thriving in the new norm

WFH: Thriving in the new norm

 

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown the world of office-based workers into unchartered territory with little warning.

Gemma Hamshar, Senior Engagement Manager at LexisNexis spoke with, Neil Smith, a LexisNexis alumni and Legal Operations specialist, about his experience of working from home both before and during the virus outbreak, discussing commonplace attitudes towards home-working, its benefits and pitfalls, tips for thriving in what is for many a completely new working environment and whether this could all change the working from home landscape in the future. 

Neil has a background in Legal Operations and strategy, market development/sales, litigation and Learning & Development having qualified as a litigator at Linklaters and worked at City law firms, as a lecturer at BPP Law school and Market Development Director at LexisNexis. 

It’s important to distinguish working from home under ‘ordinary’ circumstances from the situation huge numbers now find themselves in.

Those who are normally office-based have been flung into this new norm at the deep end. Working from home one or two days per week is not an option in the current environment. We are all fully in ‘WFH’ mode, whether we like it or not.

WFH doesn’t ordinarily mean that those who live by themselves work alone for a prolonged period, without the option of heading into the office for social interaction, or the prospect of meeting friends or loved ones after work or at the weekend.

For those who live with others, it doesn’t typically mean working alongside those in your household all the time or being thrust into home-working simultaneously and perhaps having to negotiate workspace, or coordinate work diaries to enable each other to participate in video calls or meetings without potential distractions.

Nor does WFH usually mean finding a way to continue with your job alongside looking after children and providing education!

These are just some of the obstacles office-based workers have been faced with over the past few weeks and that’s without considering the impact of trying to ‘keep calm and carry on’ in the midst of an unprecedented and concerning global pandemic.

 

What can we do to thrive while WFH?

 

Despite life being far from normal, whatever that might look like for each of us, there are absolutely some things we can do to thrive when WFH no matter what the circumstances.

Smith identified self-discipline as a key factor in home-working success.

“As there is less professional day to day contact it is vitally important to properly structure your working days. By the same argument, as there is less immediate feedback, it is equally important to take a moment to recognise and acknowledge what you have achieved each day, both for your own validation and for your stakeholders. Structure your day, take breaks, set out each morning what you hope to achieve that day - keep a task list knowing that it will likely get longer as the day goes on, but tick off what you’ve done. When you have tangible outputs, e.g. meeting a deadline or finishing an assignment, you need to find a way of effectively communicating this to your stakeholders”.

Smith proffered the following tips and suggestions for achieving this self-discipline:

  • where possible, get buy-in face to face first – it can help set the tone of any work you do together
  • set your expectations (and those of others). Tell people what you are doing, what the deliverables are and provide a time frame for delivery
  • check your tech is up to the job, both hardware and software
  • don’t be invisible - check in with people and provide regular updates on your progress

Those of us who are normally office-based will have (hopefully!) established buy-in for ongoing projects before the crisis hit, but Smith acknowledged that it can be more challenging to build genuine engagement for big tasks remotely afresh. Video conferencing makes this possible though and COVID-19 has made it clear that for many companies, the tech is up to the job…we all just have to get over the initial awkwardness of seeing ourselves on screen!

 

Navigating the challenges of WFH

 

When we work from home, more effort is required to make ourselves and our outputs visible. That we are ‘working’ from home, is not something that should be taken for granted, nor, as we are all finding out, is it the bed of roses that die-hard office-based flag fliers might have previously believed - “irrespective of your place of work, the work still has to be done and has to be shown to be done to the satisfaction of your stakeholders”, Smith  observes.  “With less face to face contact, it is vital to factor in this dissemination and dialogue.”

It’s easy to accept the notion that physically going into the office is all work, when the reality is quite different.

The social element of an office can at times be distracting. Simply being at your desk in a shared working space can make it tricky to apply yourself and it’s easy to wind up involved in work and conversations that get in the way of what you need to achieve that day. Conversely, people tend to bounce off one another so if everyone’s working hard, it’s easy to follow suit.

There are similar challenges to navigate at home. Creating an environment that facilitates intense bursts of concentration doesn’t simply happen; it requires planning and self-discipline analogous to revision or having to knuckle down and do your homework amongst an abundance of potential distractions.

 

What might the future hold for WFH?

 

On the question of what this will all mean for home working when the crisis is over, it’s early days, but Smith suggests that “attitudes, both client and supplier side, will almost certainly shift.  The crisis has forced the issue but in doing so has made more apparent that WFH can work with the right technology, the right attitudes and the right level of trust and communication”.

It seems that decision-makers at companies and organisations who have created a predominantly office-based culture from the top down also have good reason to revisit their attitudes to WFH — whilst frantic lifestyles have led to calls from many for more flexible working arrangements for some time, none of us were expecting the situation we all currently find ourselves in.

Who knows: it could generate a backlash. “Never again!” we might say, as we all scurry back to the office. However, in an uncertain world, one thing does seem clear; if the crisis does lead to an uptick in WFH, or a more flexible attitude towards the concept, it has been shown (so far at least) that in the overwhelming majority of cases, people do have the right attitude, they absolutely do take pride in their work and when combined with the technology we’ve all come to rely on so heavily, we can achieve our objectives.

 

 

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About the author:

Senior Engagement Manager at LexisNexis. 

Gemma has worked in the Customer Success and Engagements team for over 6 years. She has a deep understanding of the way users interact with our products and experience across private practice, in-house and the public sector.