Three years and counting: a working from home experiment

Date:Monday, Mar 16, 2020
Author: Paul Maggs
Reading Time: 8 minutes
Tags: Microsoft Teams Office 365
Categories: Other

In recent weeks due to global circumstances there is much chatter surrounding the need for people to work from home and the impact this type of decision has on the ability for people to successfully complete their work within these constraints. Whilst working from home is not a new concept and many organisations allow for staff to work from locations other than their typical central office location, for many people this arrangement may be for a single day per week, less frequently, alternatively for some they make a deliberate choice to always leave home each day and be present at the office. Each of these ways of working is valid and it is up to the individual, in conjunction with their respective organisation, to determine a fit that works best.

The flood of information surrounding the sudden shift to mandated work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak has seen many articles and posts including but not limited to sales pitches for collaboration and video products, how-tos from people on how to survive the home office, to those bemoaning their dislike of working from home due to the lack of socialising at the office. Whilst not everyone is afforded an opportunity to work from home due to their job role and industry, having so many people work from home during this time is an interesting social experiment to understand which organisations are truly prepared to do so, how will different organisations with varying levels of preparedness fair during this time, and will it change the landscape for how people work in the future. Will we require the traditional office space when technology has shifted so far into the realms of enabling mobility or will it be decided the office is the best place to conduct business?

Organisations who have already successfully trained and adopted productivity tools such as Office 365 with collaboration enabled using Microsoft Teams are already ahead of the curve due to the applications and services available to their staff which simplify working from home. These staff will know how to use the tools and will use them in an efficient manner. However, those organisations who are reactionary and quickly switch on technologies to enable remote working without proper adoption and change management may find their staff struggle to complete the simplest of tasks and will need to circle back over time to reduce these knowledge gaps. For example, with all the features afforded by using Microsoft Teams, you may be amazed at how much information I can throw at you on the concepts of where and how to store your data, how to efficiently use chat, collaboration, files, through to the intricacies of successfully using calling and meetings.

Several years ago I accepted a role with Modality Systems which marked a fundamental shift on how and where I work from and how I would interact with colleagues and customers. As the first Modality Systems employee located in Melbourne, Australia, there was no office to travel back and forth, and there were no colleagues close enough to meet up without the need to get on a plane. Luckily I was joining an organisation with a culture which enabled people to work from anywhere, and as long as I had a reliable internet connection it was simple to do.

Working from home can be inspiring

Making the change from daily travel via train to an office located in Melbourne’s CBD to working from home didn’t feel like a big change. Whilst I enjoy working within a team and socialising with team members, I also appreciate working from home with the multitude of differences it affords in how I approach each day and the things I can do which were not possible when I was traveling to an office. Whilst there are pitfalls to working from home when not done the right way, for me the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

Using the right tools to get the job done is key

Thankfully I work for an organisation whose primarily goal is enabling cloud based communications and collaboration for our customers. When I joined Modality Systems, Microsoft Teams was in its infancy, however the team I work with had fully embraced Teams for chat and collaboration. In addition, at that time, Skype for Business was still in use as our phone system, so it didn’t matter where I was located in the world, if I had access to a reliable internet connection then I was contactable, had access to my files, and was productive.

Ensuring all conversations and meetings were conducted with video was a simple and effective method to ensure distance wasn’t a barrier to achieving great results working within a team and with customers.

Reduced travel and public transport usage

For many, travel consumes many hours of the week, and these are hours that should be put to good use where possible. For me, prior to working from home, the travel time was approximately 1 hour from door to door, which equates to 2 hours per day, 10 hours per week. That’s an awful lot of time to be travelling where I could potentially be non-productive, although whenever possible, and when I could get a seat, I would log into my laptop and action email, read or write documents, or converse with colleagues.

Whilst it’s true that one of the traps of working from home is there’s no separation between home and work life, and this is something any home worker needs to be acutely aware of, it’s up to the individual to switch off when required. Yet when working at the office, those times you can’t leave on time can turn into very long days, from having to catch public transport, needing to line up multiple modes of public transport (I also had to take a short bus journey), missing dinner, and not seeing the kids before they’re off to bed.

Increased family time

Removing the need to travel back and forth to an office increased the amount of time I am able to spend with my family. Whilst this adds additional precious hours spend at home, there’s plenty of other areas where I’ve seen considerable improvement by working from home. Because of my work arrangements, and my wife’s working arrangements, we can quickly walk to a cafe near our house for a coffee, or go on a lunch date without the kids.

Another great advantage I had for my situation, when they’re not too loud, is I get to see a lot more of the kids. Several years ago I would be lucky to see them for a couple of hours each day in the morning and prior to them going to bed. It’s also much easier to participate in any school events or assist them to and from school.

Comfortable surroundings

There’s no place like home, and the same goes for when you work from home. No longer am I at the mercy of the office thermostat, there’s no limits to where I can set up my laptop, I can work inside when it’s cold and outside when it’s warm, want to listen to music? No problem, you’re not going to annoy anyone with your choice of music. Want to make a coffee? Grind the beans, fire up the Bialetti and milk frother. Perfect! And one of the best reasons to work from home? You can hire an assistant or two!

The assistants

The effect of working with pets can’t be understated as they have a extremely positive affect on the wellbeing of their humans disciples. They’re a joy to have around the office, they sometimes like to join you in a meeting or two, and you also get to make them happy by being at home with them.

Dogs are the best people, it’s not just a song from the Australian band the Fauves, it’s also my personal motto! I’ve had many meetings which have included my assistants, they always seem to know when you’re about to join a call or meeting (or when they were puppies they were small enough to sit on my lap). And when they do join the meeting, they’d always bring a smile to everyone’s face.

I’ve been lucky enough to have the 3 best assistants you can ask for!

Rescued from the pound and gainfully employed:

Description: Rescued from the pound and gainfully employed:

Dogs are the best people:

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The fun stuff

Without the confines of a traditional office I have all my creature comforts at my disposal, there’s a lot of fun stuff which I’ve been afforded by working from home. You must make a conscious decision to get up from your workspace and do something other than work, if you don’t then you’ll find at the end of the day you haven’t moved from the one spot for the entire day. I block out time in my calendar to ensure I have regular breaks and a lunch break, if a meeting request comes in during a time I have reserved for a break then I move my break or lunch to accommodate this (Not everyone is able to see my availability, I’m happy to be flexible and change my arrangements). One of the most positive aspects is lunch breaks are much more fun these days as I can take a walk in nature, take the assistants for a walk with me, shoot hoops at the local basketball court, go for a bike ride, or play a guitar.

And don’t mention this to anyone, I can have the Utah Jazz streaming live on the TV!

Get out of the office

Description: Get out of the office