Basing policy on what suits one type of individual best doesn’t seem a very intelligent way forward.
Boris Johnson’s comments about working from home the other day barely deserve comment. His attitude to homeworking seems to say more about him than about anyone else and doesn’t seem to match up to the evidence from managers from countless surveys over the last years.
If we just base policies on what works for one individual person then we are going to bias them solely to that type of person – which, in effect, is what we have been doing. Saying that because one person can’t focus at home and spends the day looking for distractions and eating cheese we all have to be in the office seems to be a pretty bad basis on which to build any kind of policy. Of course, some people have a problem focusing anywhere, although they may thrive in a face to face environment where the emphasis is on the more social side of work.
For many, though, the office is not the best place to get work done. They find they are being distracted by conversations, interruptions and meetings that go on and on. Moreover, different jobs require different levels of concentration and different qualities. Even the same jobs can be done in different ways according to the skills of different individuals.
The important thing is to recognise this difference rather than to impose one style of working that only favours one group of people on everyone.
Speaking as someone who has never felt the need to eat cheese while working from home, I find it interesting that some people just don’t have the imagination to see that other people may be different from them, have different ways of working and different lives.
I did a grief course with two other women recently. Both have been working from home for a couple of days a week and that has helped them tremendously in coping with their bereavement. It means they have a respite from the office, from having to put on a mask every day, and can simply get on with their work. They are both being told now that they may have to come back in full time. There is no reason for this other than that the HR person thinks everyone needs to be back in the office. Their work has not suffered. In fact they have been able to do the tasks that require focus much better on those two days. Changing that seems to demonstrate a lack of care on the part of their employers. At a time of labour shortage, that seems to be a not very intelligent approach.
It may seem that I keep banging on about homeworking because, of course, a lot of people can’t do their job remotely. But the reason I do it is because it is indicative of a general approach to work that seeks to impose a way of working on people without any evidence to back it up. If we take learning – approaches have changed over time as new evidence has emerged that not all people learn best by reading books. Some take in information better orally or visually. People have different strengths and weaknesses and we need to devise systems that benefit everyone, not one specific type of learner.
Recognising that people are different and that different approaches are needed to bring out their full potential is a positive – it’s not just about whether you work at home or at the office, but about outreach, recruitment, retention strategies, learning and development and so much more. Look at the evidence. It makes sense.