The concept of WFH or Working from home was introduced to me only six years ago. Since then, I’ve come to be one of its fiercest defenders… but with some honourable exceptions.
Fact: Agile is a people-centric culture and only because of that we need to give priority to the happiness of the individuals. This, of course, includes work and personal life reconciliation. And flexible working hours plus the possibility of working from home where necessary is essential in order to achieve this purpose with many incredible and positive outcomes.
Another fact: People and interactions are also a priority as per the Agile manifesto. Same place, same time. Do I see a potential contradiction or clash with the previous assessment? Probably. Not necessarily, but can happen.
I have a personal experience that effectively became a small case study for this subject. In a previous role I used to work in, I really, really wanted to spend some time doing an intensive course of advanced Japanese in Tokyo. Logistically, this was very tricky as I could not really afford to spend a whole month of my paid annual leave doing that, neither to fulfil my professional commitments (it was a very busy period and I had a team of five to attend).
The solution to this little puzzle was simpler than I thought: working remotely from Tokyo all that time while attending my classes in the morning (night time in the UK). And I did. Not only that, my company understood that this was a useful self-development activity and paid the flight tickets, semi-sponsoring my personal goal.
I don’t need to mention that, in terms of engagement, the fact that my company allowed me the freedom and trust to work for a whole month from the other side of the world and supporting a personal goal on my end, plus giving me a bit of economical support to that end, boosted up my engagement and made me very happy to work for them.
However, the experience, while rewarding, was way too demanding and came back home mentally and physically exhausted. While I’m really happy I did it (my Japanese is really fluent now!), I would not go through the experience of being non-stop busy from my 7 am till midnight.
Hence, I created a small case study on the extreme conditions of my experience:
- 1 whole month in Tokyo
- 8 hours of time difference
- 3 daily hours of intense classes in Japanese
- 2 hours of commute every day
- 8 hours per day being able to respond and perform as usual in my professional liabilities.
And some of the facts about this experience:
- When your timezone day is over, your real work begins
- Inability to connect or consult with individuals due to the time difference
- Working + Studying at the same time
- Technical impediments, security and roaming issues, improvised workplaces
Working remotely gives you an absolute freedom of schedule. You work when you want, like you want, in the environment that you choose, not imposed. This essentially means that you work towards productivity and goals, and give less priority to the working hours. And you can do this anywhere in the world as long as you have a decent connectivity and availability, not to mentions how easily you can dodge distractions.
Other obvious positive side effects would be: improving your attention and focus, encourage responsibility and self-discipline, reduce your stress or big brother effect, have a much better personal and work balance, or the company saving the costs of you using the office facilities. Not to mention that, potentially, you’re relieving traffic on your area with the consequent positive impact to the environment.
The concept of working hours is, in my opinion, a completely outdated one. You can be dreadfully productive one day, and non-productive at all the next one, using the same working hours. And you can choose to work twelve hours one day, then four the next. Who cares about working hours as long as you actually achieve your assigned goals? We all work differently, and this is a fact. Where does the problem reside? Just in the fact that we work under legally bound rules about location and, most importantly, the fact that we work in a social environment where everything needs to be regulated.
The dark side
Not everything about working remotely is a perk. There are some obvious, clear disadvantages for the individual and the company. For starters, you work and live in the same place, hence work doesn’t end unless you clearly define the time and physical boundaries. This means there’s an initial expense on setting up your home workplace.
Then we go into the area of the discipline. There is a high, very high need for self-discipline when working remotely / from home due to the obvious home distractions. And not everyone is ready for that. Not to mention that the feeling of isolation of loneliness can be extremely frustrating. We are social creatures and we have a need to interact, for real, with our peers, regardless of our personality.
Last but not least, we cannot forget that some people are very hooked to the 9-5 concept. And they not only work better under that scheme, but they demand that their peers do the same. I can’t count on how many time during my professional life people would gossip about that guy leaving always early or that chick always coming to the office so late in the morning.
Some thoughts and conclusions
As I said before, I believe working remotely / from home (effectively, the same thing) is an incredible perk and benefit. I myself tend to work remotely some Fridays so I can catch a flight to Madrid on a weekday (much cheaper than Fridays!), so I can work from my mother’s house and be ready for the weekend at my hometown right away, and catch-up with my friends there. And I normally use that day to do all the things that I can’t normally focus on due to meetings / distractions /etc.
However, it took me a long time to be able to become such a highly disciplined person, and I am not always that productive. This is a good example of Shuhari, as it becomes easier the more you do it. It will all depend on how busy I’ve been the rest of the week. But this could happen to me while being at my workplace nevertheless. And I know of some individuals during my professional life that feel that this benefit is an entitlement, and I have seen how they use it to have a semi-free day. But then it’s a vicious circle: if so, so what? As long as everyone fulfils their responsibilities no one should really care.
Old-fashioned managers would not deal well with this concept either. The gossip, and the concept of perception of availability is there. And it’s also a very valid one. If no one shows up systematically on Fridays, then clearly people believe it’s the day to work from home, but also presents a situation where everyone is on annual leave in appearance.
I believe the problem resides in poorly regulated rules. Sometimes, the key is to define the boundaries of the possibility of working from home in detail. Not to constraint, simply to regulate. In most of the places I’ve worked, the regulations on this matter are as vague as this can be done at the line manager’s discretion.
In Agile, we all are parts of a cluster. The team need to decide the rules on that respect to avoid misunderstandings, gossip, and false accusations or blame game. And these decisions need to be clearly communicated to the line management, so they can also cooperate in its definition. It is naive to think that a big organisation will not have anything to say on that respect. But, at the same time, it is the team’s responsibility to produce evidence of productivity and availability and widen the organisation’s view on the matter.
Only then, true harmony amongst the team members, becoming truly open-minded about the working hours, and genuine flexible time can be achieved.
I lately read an interesting article that said working from home, as a concept, was killing Agile. I profoundly disagree with this assessment, although I acknowledge it could be a possible outcome. It is all an exercise of teamwork responsibility and maturity, like everything else. I refuse to believe that, in a hyper-connected world as we are, we can’t be free and relieved of the boundaries of the old-fashioned practice 9 to 5, 8 hours a day.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Can working remotely and resilience be a powerful ally to your happiness, productivity and engagement, or is it just a way to add chaos and promote irresponsible behaviour? Or maybe something in between?