Remote working is a pretty divisive topic. Some people absolutely love it, while others prefer the routine of going into an office every day.
Those in favour say they enjoy the flexibility that working from home gives them and tout the benefits in terms of concentration and productivity.
The are clear pros and cons to both sides, but what are the most common gripes people have about working from home and what are the solutions? That’s why Már and Yessi — the Growth Quarters dream team who have widely different opinions on the topic — had a chat to find out.
Már: I really hate working from home, and I know that’s an unpopular opinion as I’m one of the few people here in Amsterdam that come into the office every single day. The reason? First of all, I feel the office should be for work, and home should be for fun stuff.
That’s why I’m a bit worried about more and more offices shutting down due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) because I really want to avoid having to work from home. There’s tons of tiny things that bug me about it, like for example working on a small laptop instead of my normal desktop setup.
Yessi: I love working from home — which is lucky since I work remotely from London — but I totally get where you are coming from. If you’re used to working with a bigger screen, making do with a laptop is definitely less than ideal. If you are spending a lot of time working from home — or would like to have more flexibility to do so — I know it’s pretty common advice, but I would recommend investing in a new computer or an extra screen you can hook your laptop up to. I bought an iMac when I got this job and I haven’t looked back.
I think laptops are great if you’re on the move but if you are going to spend more time at home, I’d also recommend making sure that you have a decent setup — i.e. a dedicated desk, computer and suitable chair. I’m lucky in that sense as I have my own office at home, which means I’ve even been able to set up my whiteboard and it’s done wonders for my productivity and organization. And if a screen or a desktop computer are too big of an investment, you can also try laptop stands that bring the screen up to your eyeline.
Már: Ok, that actually makes sense! But, I also feel like I get sleepier at home. I think it has to do with the fact that I don’t move as much and the lack of fresh air. I usually walk or cycle into our office and I miss that when I’m forced to work from home. How do you deal with that?
Yessi: Right, yes, this is a common issue. It’s very easy to sit at a desk all day when you work from home, but the trick is to schedule regular breaks in the same way that you would if you were in an office. It’s important to get up and move around, whether it’d be to get yourself a cup of coffee, to stretch, or to put a load of washing on, for example.
Having a routine is also very important. I try to go to the gym three times a week. I usually go before work as this sets me up for the day and helps me feel more energized. I also try and get out during the day. We have a dog so I often take her to the park, or if I can, I try and run a few errands — that way I kill two birds with one stone.
I do walk a lot less than when I worked in an office, but I get ill a lot less (open offices are a breeding ground for germs). I eat a lot more healthily because I cook every day and don’t have to resort to ready-made meals or sandwiches. I also spend a lot less money on food and transport.
Már: Alright, so you’re able to feel more energized, but don’t you get more distracted at home?
Yessi: I’m often perplexed when people bring this up because there are more distractions in an office scenario: Colleagues chatting, phones ringing, people typing too loudly, etc. I’m not a big fan of open offices. In fact, I find it very hard to focus and always get more work done when I’m at home.
Working from home means you have complete control over your environment (and let’s be honest, you can play really loud music!).
Már: Hmm, you’ve got a point there, our colleagues are super annoying (especially Callum). But still, there’s a social element to that distraction, don’t you feel lonely working remotely?
Yessi: Yeah Callum is pretty annoying but I still love him. On a more serious note, while I would love to see you all more often, I don’t actually get lonely.
Although they’re not perfect, communication tools such as Slack mean you can chat to your colleagues every second of the day (if you wanted to). And while you may miss out on face-to-face contact, studies have shown that people in open-plan offices, for example, interact less. I’m pretty lucky that we’ve got a great team dynamic and actually feel connected to everyone — and we do have great banter on Slack.
I don’t underestimate the importance of having regular contact with fellow humans but not being able to do this in person shouldn’t stop you from doing your work. And if you’re just working temporarily, like due to Coronavirus office closure, using Slack to socialize shouldn’t be a big deal at all as you know everyone ‘in person,’ so jokes and “water-cooler” talk translates even better. In my experience, and because I spend a lot of time at home during the week, I make more of an effort to see people in the evenings and weekends.
Már: Fine, I’m actually sold on that point. However, having a proper work-life balance is difficult enough when you’re in an office. Don’t you end up working longer hours in general when you work from home?
Yessi: Again, I think this is a popular misconception. I actually work less hours since I started working from home full-time just over a year ago. This doesn’t mean I’m less productive, it just means I work smarter. Not having to waste several hours a day commuting, means I can start my day earlier and finish earlier.
I make a concerted effort to set boundaries and unless an emergency comes up or I’m on deadline, I don’t tend to work past 6pm at the latest. I can assure you I used to work far more into the evening when I worked in an office, mostly because I would get the most work done when people started going home for the day and the office got quieter.
Már: And what about the impact on your creativity?
Yessi: I recently read a really interesting New York Times piece about remote working which touched on this very topic. According to the article, research has shown that remote workers gain in productivity, but miss harder-to-measure benefits like creativity and innovative thinking. There is evidence that people working together in the same room tend to solve more problems, but I personally don’t find this to be the case.
We schedule regular catch ups with colleagues and run brainstorming sessions using digital tools. Not being in the same room as someone shouldn’t deter creativity. In fact, I think that being remote and having to run these sessions online means they are much more focused and time efficient.
Look, I’m not saying that working from home is for everyone, but if I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to work somewhere where it wasn’t an option.
Már: Now, on that we definitely agree, I’ve started to take it for granted that I could work from home whenever I needed to. I really can’t imagine working at a company that didn’t trust me enough to give me that flexibility.