Having a workforce committed to your vision because they identify with it, and not because it is a policy, is priceless.
There have been many articles published recently around a push to return to the office, based primarily on concerns by employers surrounding a decline in team spirit, productivity, social engagement, and innovation. Resume Builder surveyed 1,000 corporate decision-makers in August 2023 and reported that only 2% of companies plan to not require their employees to return in person to the office. While we support the Return-to-Office sentiment and follow a hybrid model ourselves, there are exceptions that we can share, as well as information regarding how to make remote work, work.
We employ a team of people in South Africa, who have managed to successfully work from home (WFH), 13 000 km away from our London base. They are all new employees, who despite never having met their head office colleagues in person, remain engaged, deliver results, generate fresh ideas, and have built great relationships with their remote team members.
We are planning a series of articles from several perspectives on what makes virtual offices work. This, our first article, is the personal experience of one of the South African team members. Look out for Parts 2 and 3 where we will share other team members’ views, as well as our own from an employer perspective.
If your own personal values are the same as the company for which you work, then the culture fit will overcome most issues. And, if it cannot overcome them, it will provide a framework to enable a healthy, respectful means to get there. This means that whenever there is stress in the system (e.g., workload, resource constraints), then the company ethos provides the guiding moral compass for resolution.
Communication is critical and requires effort. It is almost inevitable that misunderstandings will occur when interaction only takes place via a technological platform. In a physical office, there is lots of repetition and opportunities for clarification (at the coffee station, walking between meetings, waiting for people to come into the boardroom, etc.). In a remote world, things are often only said once in a Zoom or MS Teams meeting. I have found that daily Teams calls, quick emails, WhatsApp notes, and MS Teams chat notes are essential to replace what would usually be discussed casually in the office. Like the coffee station catch-ups, I now have several online one-on-one conversations to gain individual input and then a group meeting to consolidate the feedback.
When you WFH, infrastructure becomes a personal responsibility with the help and support of the employer, as opposed to it being completely up to your employer when you are working in the office. To help reduce the annoying stressors that could impact my productivity, I have trusted providers for IT support, a reliable power supply such as back-up uninterrupted power supply (SA frequently has planned and unplanned power outages), strong internet, and sufficient bandwidth for online meetings, not to mention easy access to coffee during the day.
Knowing your boundaries and being comfortable with them is key to performance. Life is full of wonderful things to do, and work is one of these blessings, as is time with family, friends, being outdoors, exercising, etc. Thankfully, I am finally at peace with how much to work, and when. I can deliver to my absolute maximum capability, feel productive when I end my day, and not feel guilty when I switch off the laptop and pack it away every night and weekend. I have discovered that there is no definitive “right” work-life balance, but when you find it, you will know it. This becomes easier with experience.
Having said this, I do recognise that I am not a young person entering her first job, wanting to build a career. If that is the case, face-to-face networking, and in-person brainstorming may be crucial, learning the nuances of office etiquette may be more challenging, and priorities of personal goals may require a different approach.
In my case, working from home really means WORK and really means not ever being in the office, and it works for both me and my firm, primarily because of the culture fit. As remote employees, we benefit from not spending time traveling to and from the office while the company benefits from increased productivity at far lower overheads and cost to the company.
The importance of culture fit is critical for any new employee hire. It is even more relevant now in this dynamic post-Covid, post-Brexit, war-torn world in which we find ourselves. For the individual, work consumes so much of our time, that to separate our intrinsic nature from what we do, and how we do it, is not only stressful and difficult, but should not be necessary. For the collective (i.e. the company and its stakeholders), having a workforce committed to your vision because they identify with it, and not because it is a policy, is priceless.