Traditional remote workers are a resource: use them

If employees are struggling to cope with long-term remote working, one solution might be to make use of traditional remote and hybrid workers’ experience.

Woman in wheelchair working at laptop in kitchen


As the return to the office debate continues and the R rate rises, we are at a particular moment in time. The urgency of the economic issues is once again being pitched against health concerns. Over the past week the political momentum has seemed to be mainly on the economy side, but, of course, health and economics are not separate issues as we saw during the first lockdown. If the virus spreads, causing another major lockdown, everyone loses. The momentum could very easily swing back.

As parents get their children back to school, there is a sense that we are moving into a new phase of the pandemic, characterised by sudden lockdowns, quarantines and general uncertainty. Somehow we will have to learn to live with that and work out which things we can control. Those parents continuing to work from home will find themselves moving to a new regime based around school hours and availability of out of hours support.

For many it will be a relief to have some time to focus, although some may still have younger children around and, according to reports, parents of special needs children may face ongoing childcare challenges. Any change takes time to adjust to. Seasoned homeworkers, for instance, often adapt their working days in the holidays, getting up earlier and working later – the kind of exhausting lockdown working we have been doing up until now, accompanied, of course, by homeschooling. During term time, their working day can be more intense, trying to cram all calls and work that requires communication or focus into the school hours.

I wonder how many employers have turned to those seasoned homeworking parents over the last weeks and months and asked them for advice on what works. Often sidelined in the past, now their time has come. They know how to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the working day, what support is needed [technical support, please!] and how to stay sane.

I was talking to someone about a survey the other day that showed many dads who are not used to working from home are missing the commute. Not because they miss the office, but because they miss the transition between work and home life. Seasoned homeworkers know all about this. For some, the school run – going out and coming back to the home office – is their transition time. Having a space reserved for working can be important, but is not always possible. Getting dressed can make you feel more like you are in work mode. Inventing your own commute by going for a walk round the block can help. Just having a routine that marks the transition from work to home life, for instance, having fixed hours when you don’t work in the evening, can make a huge difference.

An article in the Harvard Business Review last week highlights academic research on this issue. It ends with a series of tips: create your own commute, mark the end of your workday in some way, focus your workload on a daily ‘must win’, reserve daily time for non-urgent work which might otherwise slip off the agenda, schedule leisure activities and run your own time management experiments to see how you can cut out time wastage.

The authors, Lauren C. Howe, Ashley Whillans and Jochen I. Menges, say: “Around the world, shifting to remote work could save billions of hours — but it’s up to us to spend that time well. Now is the time to make thoughtful choices about how we reshape work to get more of what we all crave most: time.”

It’s great advice, but employers already have that advice to hand. Their remote and hybrid workers have been doing it for years. It’s time to make use of that resource.

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