WFH Working from home

Covid-19 the great disruptor. Disruption.

I’ve been used to working from home one or two days a week for several years. So when the coronavirus situation turned here in the UK and the need to WFH was announced I thought I and the team would be prepared.

In reality, it was far from it. The first stand-up call failed. Too many people were working from home and the conference call infrastructure buckled. I spun up a free Zoom account. It took several hours for the confirmation email to percolate through the layers to my client O365 account, but next day the team could at least hear each other clearly.

Several other team members registered accounts so it became difficult to know which one to use. If one failed we switched to another, but at least we could do team sit down stand-ups.

Our usual team conference call package also bundled chat, along with IP telephony so we switched to MS Teams for chat. Only problem was the Teams client had not been rolled out so we had to use the web browser client. This consumed nearly 0.5Gb of memory and was dog slow on my ThinkPad. So I switched back to old chat and had two channels now to monitor.

Teams would send an email when someone was trying to reach me. Another distraction. I could probably find the notification preference buried somewhere if I had time. Why not just email me I thought? I now had to monitor email to check Teams that took ages to load only to find someone has sent a morning greeting!

We take communication for granted. We take time to learn how to use the new tools and use multiple tools effectively. It will improve.

Team members, especially new to WFH shared tips. Simple things like taking a break, making sure your screen is the right height, having a comfortable chair, speaking to others rather than typing out messages all helped remind me of things I take for granted others may not.

Childcare is obviously a real issue for some with work and family life intermingled. Soon toddlers appeared in the team meetings with the sudden dash to catch a wayward one from mischievous adventure. It all seemed funny but very serious as well. A tension rarely seen in WFH before.

Exercise needs discipline without the mandated daily walk to the station and office commute. It’s all too easy to forget to exercise and healthy concentration soon suffered.

Social groups and interaction – so much has been covered and virtual coffee mornings soon appeared in the calendar to replace the office kitchen banter that we take for granted.

Social games – relieve stress. Online quizzes, endless funny videos consuming precious VPN bandwidth and even Eurovision style contests helped ease the strain of lockdown.

After 8 weeks of lockdown, lunacy or more correctly well-being mindfulness raised in importance. It is hard to keep pretending this is normal. It’s not the new normal. But we will battle through.

It’s interesting to think what could happen to cities if the great exodus to WFH remains the new normal after measures are slowly removed. All the office space that can only allow 50% or 25% occupancy. WeWork clusters that have an even tighter business case. The realisation that for some types of office work the need to be colocated was a myth and teams can be productive using remote working tools.

Could there be an inversion with the move away from living in cities to the tranquility and greener countryside? Will house prices flip and London rates decrease as the supply exceeds the demand and offices become living accommodation? It’s interesting to ponder on the new economics of a post Covid-19 world. If there’s ever such a place.

Not everyone can and will want to WFH so the shift is likely to be moderated. But could the high-street in towns and villages return to offer an escape from home office life? Local WeWork style venues like the coffee shops with wifi but allowing social distanced working space as an alternative to the home office. For local meet ups and a change of scene. Many more local social centres of enterprise rather than mass transit to mega city office spaces where hot desking had already removed the ownership of my personal space.

The continued isolation of WFH will mean change, it’s a disruptor that we can’t ignore.