Work from home (WFH)

The reality is that few “Future of Work visions” have emerged as rapidly and unexpectedly as the work from home (or as I see it affectionately shorted WFH) phenomenon. The one moment we were still talking about it and arguing the merits of it, and the next moment it was there, almost like a mysterious creature from mythical times.

For those who were unprepared, there was no time to think about protocols, processes, governance and most importantly, can we trust our people to do this. I am a believer, having worked from home in my last corporate role. In my context, I can’t see work delivered any other way. The reality though is that for many organisations, it was a mere pipe dream. This article applies to roles that allow for work from home; not all positions fit into this category.

So is it here to stay, and what needs to fundamentally change for it to be considered standard practice in the future?

I facilitated a quick LinkedIn survey on it last week, by no means a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination. Still, from the 45 responses, only 4% said they anticipate a full return to work post-COVID –19, with 80% saying they expect some form of partial retainment of the approach and 16% saying they expect it will stay for their organisations. The results, although unscientific, are encouraging and reflective of the need for change.

But, I wonder if our organisational systems and cultures carry enough trust to make this work, and I have to say, although a practising WFH agent, I have some doubts. To allow people to work from home requires some severe credit in the realm of trust. What I have observed over the last 20 years, and often so from my HR profession, is a barrage of systems to control and govern. Dare I say I made myself complicit to this reality. I would consider this one of my professional regrets. Governance is, of course not a bad thing, but sometimes we overdo it, with no real benefit and value, on the contrary, to the great frustration of many involved. It will require a significant shift in “giving” implied trust that employees will deliver and will be productive when working from home.

From personal experience, and in speaking to many people that work from home, conversations are often about higher productivity and long work hours. Giving people trust instead of waiting for it to be earned will be a good starting point.

That brings me to the second focus, Performance Management. For years I would say that Performance Management has been my favourite practice of all people practices. If you think about it, it gives us as HR people the ability to help the organisation and Executive Leaders to deliver the strategy, by cascading and aligning deliverables. So what is the power that it holds in enabling remote working?

We need to develop our thinking in this regard, from measuring effort to measuring output and outcomes. If I know what result I need to deliver, then where I do it from shouldn’t matter that much. This, of course, assumes your “delivery environment” is enabled, stable and trustworthy. We require a fundamental shift in our thinking on Performance Management, it holds tremendous power and value, but in my view, not in its current form and certainly not as an over-engineered approach focused on activity and governance.

I think it is time for leaders to take the plunge and give trust before it needs to be earned, and by measuring on the outcome rather than the effort, we can create the right structure to drive delivery. If we can create the proper building blocks, we can ensure this dream no longer lives in the Future of Work.

Is your company ready to embrace this? Are you?