Work From Home (WFH): The Problem or The Solution?

Full Transcript Below

[ANNOUNCER]: Breaking down everyday workplace issues and diagnosing the hidden sickness not just the obvious symptom, our hosts James and Coby.

[COBY]: Did we lose a patient?

[JAMES]: No that’s just my lunch.

[COBY]: Hey thanks for joining us. I’m Coby, he’s James. Let’s get started with a question. Work from home: the problem or the solution?

[JAMES]: So work from home is kind of a loaded term. It’s actually been used to talk about a couple different things already, we talk about work from home, we talk about remote work, we talk about hybrid work, and we kind of use them interchangeably, when they are different concepts. So just for clarity’s sake, I want to talk about what those three things are first before we kind of jump into what the, whether or not it’s a problem or a solution. So when we’re talking with folks, when we’re talking about remote working, we’re generally talking about working, like if I’m working for a. I’m based in Nova Scotia. If I’m working for a company in the UK then I am a remote worker. I don’t have the opportunity to regularly go into the office, it’s just the nature of the job requires that I am not in the office for the, I work remotely. Versus a work from home is typically a benefit that is given to people. The ability to work from home. So typically you are in a geographical region where you could go into the office, but you’re given the opportunity to either work, full-time from home, or on a part-time basis from home. And that’s where we get into the hybrid piece, of you know. So for myself personally, for the last, you know, several months anyways, I’ve been working a hybrid. I work from home two to three days a week and I’m in the office two to three days a week. You know there are just certain things that I can do in the office that are far easier for me to accomplish there. And there are certain things that I can do here at home, like our podcasting, where I have a nice cozy office environment, that makes it easier to perform certain tasks here. So when we’re talking about those topics and today we’re really going to be focusing on the benefit that you bestow on employees of working from home, or providing work from home, or providing a hybrid solution, and we’re not really talking about the remote work. Where you don’t have the option of going into the office.

[COBY]: Right and I think that it’s also kind of good to kind of clarify a little bit. I’m just kind of adding to that, with if you’re in like a city or in a geographical region and you know, you don’t have a remote, you know, your employers in the same region or area, and you’re working from home all the time, you don’t have a remote job, you have a work from home job. And I mean, so it’s kind of that, the option isn’t really there. Which is what it is. Because remote work is not a new idea, that’s been around for a long time, and it’s there’s a lot of benefits to it. Like removing geographical barriers for employers to find talent, and also for talent to find employers. So it is something that’s been around for a while, and something we’re going to talk about, especially if we kind of get into kind of the pieces about, kind of the workplace culture. Those kinds of things like that that, will probably be relevant to remote work but as you said we’re really talking about jobs that operationally allow for work from home. We’re not we’re not talking about production jobs, or customer service jobs that you can’t do any kind of hybrid work for home. It’s about mostly jobs where technology allows you to have the option of working from home and be able to do you know as much you know at least half of the job as well from home as you could from the location of that your workplace is.

[JAMES]: Yeah, and you’re you’re right this is really not a new concept. It’s been around, you know these remote workforce, has been an opportunity for a long time. But the technology has gotten to the point, and we were all forced into various stages of, you know, remote or work from home situations, hybrid situations, during COVID, that you know, it’s really come to the forefront. And it’s when, and I think one of the reasons why it’s such a hot button topic right now is because people, so many people, got exposed to the benefits of working from home, right? And there are many, many benefits that come with the ability to work from home. You know, being, if you have children who require child care, being home for emergency situations, still being able to be productive and do your work, but you know, being able to mitigate some of those child care challenges, can in and of itself is a non-monetary, massive benefit for many parents. Child care I know child care in Canada, and Atlanta Canada, and Nova Scotia, is expensive and it’s not easy to access for a lot of people. So removing that barrier is a huge benefit for many people. There’s also the convenience, there’s you know saving on your fuel costs, which are ridiculous now anyways, but you also like, I’ve got a 35 minute commute into the office. Not terrible, I enjoy it, you know, we’re not in a major city so I mean my 35 minute commute is on the highway listening to a podcast and it’s kind of relaxing in the morning. But if I spend 35 minutes to an hour in a traffic jam every morning, and then again to get home at the end of the day, I’d be pissed off all the time because I do not like traffic. I’m not the most patient person in the world. So there’s all kinds of these benefits that people were exposed to, many for the first time, and they are reluctant to give up these benefits.

[COBY]: Absolutely, and it’s funny because, like, yeah so when you listen things like the child care, the commute, and all that kind of stuff, really are some of the things that people were like “Wow, these were things I didn’t realize I could, you know, have a better experience with”. Or this kind of realization that kind of came with the lock downs or those kinds of things too. So part of it was, and out of necessity, operational necessity, a lot of businesses, you know, encouraged the work from home experience during that time. And part of it was, like you know, some businesses had employees asking about those kind of accommodations pre-COVID and they were like “No no we can’t do that” and then when COVID hit and it became an operational imperative, all of a sudden we’re like, “Yeah, we could totally do that”, and then everyone’s like well, and now there’s, and then, some of them are going back to “No no we really can’t do that”, and they we’re like “No no you lied”.

[JAMES]: We did it for two years.

[COBY]: Yeah, exactly.

[JAMES]: Over two years, the productivity maintained the same levels, or was higher, and like don’t pull that crap of; oh, suddenly the world has changed again and operationally we can’t do it anymore, That’s garbage.

[COBY]: Yeah, so when it comes to a lot of the justifications that business make, our managers make, about why people need to come back to the office. We we kind of categorize them in kind of three different categories. There are legitimate reasons why people should be working from the office, more if not full time. And there’s a ton of not legitimate reasons. And I’m sure for many people that are listening have heard a lot of those. But there’s also ones that are what we call false equivalencies. Where they sound like they should be right, but they’re really not. So as far as legitimate reasons there’s actually not that many of them. And we’re not gonna be able to list them all, but like some of the big ones that might be easier for people to relate to are things like collaboration. So like, we when we are together in the office, like our team, we use our office time together as what we call our “scheming time”. Where we kind of do our brainstorming, our planning, our working together on stuff. It’s easier to share things when we’re, like you know, in the offices next door or just down the hall, that kind of stuff. It’s a lot easier of an experience to have that kind of, you know, collaboration. Collaboration is still doable you know virtually, but there just seems to be more energy.

[JAMES]: For us it’s really, like, we have collaboration tools that we use in the office. We have a space that is dedicated, that we use specifically for collaboration.

[COBY]: Yeah, we have boards and TVs and stuff like.

[JAMES]: Right, so we’ve intentionally designed a space to be able to perform this task because collaboration is an essential, everything that we do within Roman 3 is based from a collaborative model and it is central to everything that we do, and it is one of the core activities that we engage in. And as such, the best place for us to collaborate is in the office because we have specifically designed the supports and services and tools and technology around that. That and it gives us an opportunity to also you know continue to build rapport with people in another setting.

[COBY]: Right and a lot of what you’re kind of saying, having the space and the place, is kind of another reason, a legitimate reason, why there’s a, working at the office has benefits, and that’s access to equipment. So like we have our collaboration tools and equipment. Me I almost work full-time from the office, because I’ve got a nice set up, multiple screens, and tools, and resources, they’re all kind of my fingertips. And lugging all that stuff home with my crazy, busy family makes it really challenging to get, to have that space, so a lot of the equipment I wouldn’t move back to my home office. I would keep kind of here, at our office building. And that equipment access is another legitimate reason. Because some things, you know, you can’t have if, you got one big expensive piece of equipment, like you know printers, or whatever your company uses. Having that in the one location for everyone to access makes sense you, can’t buy that for everybody, so that’s another legitimate reason for people coming back to the office.

[JAMES]: Yeah, as you said there’s also a whole host of illegitimate reasons, or garbage reasons, that are kind of used as excuses. And I think that’s the biggest thing, is that I see them as excuses to pull people back to the office. And some of them just drive me nuts. More and more recently there’s been this kind of idea that the only way to really, you know, create a tight, a close-knit team, is that you have to be in person to do that. The only way to, I mentioned, I used the word, rapport earlier, like you know, when we are collaborating. Yeah, being in person gives us another opportunity to build that rapport amongst our team. But there’s this idea that started to kind of permeate a lot of business thought, a lot of business articles, that saying that the only way to build rapport or build a healthy culture is to force people back to the office, and that is just not true.

[COBY]: We touched on that in our last podcast talking about the comments from Malcolm Gladwell.

[JAMES]: Yeah exactly, I don’t want to get on my soapbox again because I’ll go off on a tangent…

[COBY]: …and this will be a 45, or this would be like a four hour podcast.

[JAMES]: Yeah, I’ll keep the ranting to a manageable level.

But like that’s one that is one excuse that is presented, that to me, is a false equivalent. It’s people are saying it’s to do one thing, but really, it does not accomplish that. Or it’s a illegitimate reason, whatever.

[COBY]: Yeah, well I mean, so I put that under the not legitimate reasons. Because, like so, part of it and we talk about this in a lot of our training, we use a lot of psychology in how we build our courses, in how we build our content, everything like that. And one thing that we talk, that comes up a lot when you talk about, you know, well it’s always been done that rapport is built from people being beside each other, in proximity. It’s always been done that the manager walks by the desk and makes sure everyone’s working. And that’s what we call, or what it’s called, what we call it, but it’s called the Implicit Bias to Convention. When you are thinking the old way is the only way, or the right way, or I only want to do things the way that it has been done, you’re you’re assuming the old way is better. Or how it used to be was better. What you’re comfortable with is better. a

[JAMES]: And I think that last bit is the really important part. It’s often default to your comfort zone, right? This is what I know already, I know how to manage a team in person, I know how to check my team’s progress in person, so because I already know how to do this, this is what we’re going to do.

[COBY]: Right, yeah, and I mean, and that idea that Implicit Bias to Convention is something that probably is at the heart of a lot of reasons. It’s not a reason into itself, but it’s where a lot of the, well, yeah, I’m used to it, I’m comfortable with that, I like it when people are here. Like we’ve talked to, like you know, different people, like you know, at big law firms and they’re like, “yeah you know the managing partner wants everyone to come back to the office, because that’s what they’re used to”. And those kinds of things and that Implicit Bias to Convention kind of makes the, is how a lot of business decisions get made. It’s not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s where a lot of, I think, the heart of most of the of these not legitimate excuses, that you said, kind of come from. Just like another one, is justifying the office space costs. “Well, we pay for these buildings, we pay for this kind of stuff, we want people to fill them.” And you know, like, well yeah. But there’s also throwing, you know, good money after bad. If you realize that, if you’ve been taught that there’s a better way to do things, that doesn’t require those spaces, isn’t, you know, that new learning probably worth exploring? Instead of just, again Implicit Bias to Convention, you’ve always had office spaces, and actually trying to do things a way that may not require those office space costs.

[JAMES]: Yeah, I think those are good points, I think there’s another reason that is not ever actually spoken about this way, but I think a lot of people are being forced back to the office, just because their manager wants to look over their shoulder. The manager feels like they need to, they can’t trust their team to work remotely. They can’t trust that the work is going to be done. Or they are, we talk a lot about confident leadership, and the death of leadership. One of the Three Deaths of Leadership is micromanagement. And I’ve seen this one a lot. Unfortunately I have a lot of personal experience with this one. And it’s kind of my pet peeve. But this whole, often times micromanagement stems from a lack of confidence. Stems from a lack of confidence in the manager’s ability to lead, and motivate, and ensure that work is being done. And I see this as one of the reasons why many people are being forced back into the office without good cause. Just because somebody wants to be able to monitor and watch closely what people are doing. The example that you talked about, you know talking with our colleague in the legal industry, of the managing partner wanting people to come back so that they can be physically be in the office and monitor what people are doing, right? Highly, highly intelligent, capable professional, not the strongest management and leadership style.

[COBY]: Right, yeah and I think that’s kind of when you mentioned the false equivalency before, but I think this is actually probably where it really does live. It’s easier for managers to stay on top of things and have oversight when everyone is in person. And I think that is a false equivalency, because having people around does not necessarily, it might make it more comfortable, and simpler, it requires less effort and requires less learning curve, but it doesn’t mean that there’s, it’s actually a better way to manage and to do oversight. I think that’s where the false equivalency kind of comes in.

[JAMES]: Right, and we talk about this a fair amount in different, we’ve talked about it in different podcasts, we talk about it in different YouTube videos, and articles, and our training. The whole idea of the difference between being busy and being productive. And if you want to guarantee that your staff are merely being busy, haul them back into the office for no good reason. You will see that people are busy at their computers, they will be engaged in something, and they will look like they are working, and tasks will be completed. But if you actually want people to be productive, if you want people to spend, to get the most tasks accomplished within the time frame that they are given. You have to speak to what they need and if you have not sold them on a legitimate need to be back in the office, then all you’re doing is creating discontent. Potentially creating disengagement which is a very expensive problem in our workplaces.

[COBY]: Yeah, and so I always like to give our definition of busy and productive, because it, a lot of people have said it’s really helpful, so I thought I’ll just get there real quick. So being busy is using as much time as you can with the tasks that you have. And being productive is doing as many tasks as you can with the time that you have. And that differentiation is something that it is a helpful way for people to kind of wrap their mind around what that is. If you’re trying to get as much done as you can within time then you’re productive, and a lot of people find that they can be more productive at home. Because they can maybe work when they have a more productive mindset, like people sometimes are slow moving in the morning and even so maybe if they could do more work later on in the day, that might make their productivity higher. Or they could jump from one thing to the other, or they can come back refreshed. And I mean, so if the goal is to complete tasks and that’s kind of the benefit, the productive benefit. Where busy, you’re right people can just be, you know like, sitting there with on social media and then someone walks by, these a window switch and they’re on their spreadsheets, or whatever. Like, you know, those types of things, you know, legitimately happen. It doesn’t improve productivity. People just get better at hiding being busy.

[JAMES]: Well and I’ve got a story. I’ve got a perfect example of that. Several years ago, I started a new job, very excited about this opportunity. It was a job that I had been angling for a while, and with a team that I was excited to join. Doing work that was really important to me. So I entered into the job with a high level of enthusiasm, ready to go. What was funny is that I remember for the first at least two weeks of the job, you know like the job was 8:30 to 4:30. I remember about 4:30 rolling around the first couple days and nobody really wanted to be, nobody was packing up. The CEO hadn’t left yet so nobody else was leaving. Five o’clock rolls around, CEO’s still in their office, so everybody else is still in their office. 5:30 rolls around, and you know the CEO gets up from their desk, so everybody starts packing up. No they were just going to the washroom. So like, but I mean this idea, that I wasn’t actually doing any more work from 4 30, to I think it was about quarter to six when I actually got out of there. But I stayed at my desk because I wanted to look busy. Because the environment that the CEO had created was that “if I’m there, you’re there. And if I’m busy, you’re busy.” And they had, they had a very weak understanding of the difference between people being busy and people being productive. And to them if you were at your desk working, if they could see you at your desk doing something, then that was what they wanted. They reinforced through their behavior that the only thing that really mattered was if you were busy or not.

[COBY]: Yeah and I think if we go back to the question we asked at the very beginning. Work from home, the problem or the solution? I kind of think, it kind of comes back to this busy versus productive. Because if you want, if you’re trying to create busy people then work from home can be a problem. But if you’re trying to create productive people, then work from home can be the solution. Because a lot of people are like, so we talked about kind of the businesses reasons people coming back to the office, but let’s talk a little bit about the people that are, the employees reasons for not going back to the office. So the people who are trying, so people are trying to stay away from the office for some benefits, some of it is around productivity, like you know, again we kind of alluded to, they can maybe work when they’re a little bit more productive during the day. They can take better breaks, they can kind of come at things when they’re, you know, in the mood, or when they’re not distracted. And you can actually, and as you said. I don’t have any stats to, I’ve read stats, but can’t recall it right now, but there are a number that said like, in the UK there were stats that said, productivity, you know, went up like fifteen, twenty percent during work from home during lockdown. So there really was this benefit where people that were engaged in their jobs. Those who were engaged could actually complete more when given that flexibility to work from home. And then you alluded to the whole thing around like child care, and commuting, and kind of having that, almost like that, better work life balance, is another reason why people are seeing this, the hybrid, work from home options as being a real asset. But then if you talk about some of the other reasons people want to avoid the office. Because of the stresses that kind of come with the office. Like I’m sure your exact story you just gave, that was probably a very stressful workplace and you probably would’ve look for every opportunity you could to not be around

[JAMES]: Yeah, I mean I was fortunate in that job, because my job required that I was out of the office a lot. I was traveling around our region meeting with businesses providing support to businesses. And it required me to be out of the office more than I was in the office. The days that I had to be in the office to do paperwork, I just dread it. So I ensured that I had the highest possible client caseload so that I was working outside of the office with clients as much as humanly possible. [COBY]: Right, yeah. And so there are these things where the employees are, you know again, like they got used, they get exposed to and used to the benefits of work from home and hybrid workplaces. And a lot of it has to kind of do with the culture of the workplace. If the culture, you know, it’s not just busy versus productive. But if the culture does reinforce productive, usually it’s about reinforcing positive experiences, and job satisfaction, and engagement, and you know, psychological safety, and all the things we talked about, you know, belonging, in our previous podcast till now. So usually those kind of go together when you’re trying to create a more, a workplace that values productivity. Whereas if your business are trying to establish a culture of busy, then usually those things don’t exist. Usually it’s, you know, there’s not psychological safety, usually there is this expectation of just following the lead and whatever is said about leadership. If they want to micromanage then that’s how things get done, and again that implicit bias to convention, and those kinds of things too. So it’s one of those things where again going back to the problem or the solution? It kind of is a really comes down to a better question. It’s kind of what is the workplace you’re trying to craft? What is the culture you’re trying to craft? And again is it for the managers is it just to justify the norms of your of your workplace? Is work from home or the desired people come back to the office is about you, just justifying what’s normal to you? Or do you actually want to improve output?

[JAMES]: Yeah I want to be clear we’re not saying that work from home is always the right solution, right? Work from home is a tool. Hybrid workplaces are a tool? For you to use like any other tool. It will be the best solution in some situations, and it will be the worst solution in some situations. If you only have one tool in you at your disposal, then, if everything, if you only have a hammer everything’s a nail, right? Every problem is a nail. This is an opportunity for businesses to examine what are they actually trying to accomplish and are they trying to give their employees a benefit? So you know, the increased flexibility, greater autonomy, greater trust and freedom over their work. You know, the ability to work how and when they want. You know, these benefits work really, really well for hybrid and work from home situations. If you focus on the results of somebody’s work. If you focus on the tasks that somebody is performing, and that tasks have to be performed in a certain way at a certain time, then work from home is not going to be the solution for you. It’s not to say that you couldn’t reorganize the way that you provide these benefits, or reorganize the the priorities that you place around work. But it really comes down to, from an organizational perspective or from your perspective as a manager, what are you trying to accomplish here? Because if it’s not about providing a benefit to your employees, then it may be about ensuring oversight.

[COBY]: Right. Because kind of, you know, the kind of question is; why is it that a manager, or the head of an organization, or whoever’s opinion that people need to come back to the office, why is that your opinion? Is it because of legitimate reasons, like you mentioned collaboration, access to equipment, those types of practical operational things. Or does it kind of fall back to that implicit bias to convention? Where we’ve always done it so that’s how we should always do it? Or is it more about control and desire to almost micromanage. I feel like that’s a question that you kind of personally have to ask yourself. Why is it that I think people need to come back to the office? Or why is it that we can’t provide this luxury, or at least, or not luxury, but this this tool. Or even, you know, why are we not exploring getting the most out of this tool? Because work from home, you said it’s a tool. So why are we not trying to capitalize on another tool that we have access to? If it will, if it’s beyond just the legitimate reasons, if there are, you know, things that are holding us back, is it us holding us back?

[JAMES]: And is there are so many pieces of technology, so many tools, so many resources out there that can support your work from home efforts. Or the efforts that you, that you create to provide the opportunity to work from home. It requires some effort though, it requires some, it requires you to look at the problem a little differently. It also requires you to manage your team differently. And I think this is a big one that we haven’t really talked about yet. And it really it kind of goes with what you’ve been talking about with the biased towards convention, because for many… Okay the first problem is that something in the range of 59% of managers have never received any form of management training to begin with. So we’ve never, we’ve done a very, very poor job as businesses in providing management skills, management training, to the people who are leading others. So if people have learned by default one particular way and they’ve never been given an opportunity or taught how to do things differently, they are going to focus on what they know, that’s human nature. And what they know is managing people who are all contained in the same space. Management is a skill that can be learned, managing in-person teams is a skill, managing remote teams or work from home teams is a skill.

If as a manager, you, I mean these these are not easy questions to answer, but if you get to the point where you’re actually, where you’re doing the self-reflection and you realize that, yeah, okay, it is actually because I don’t really know how to get the most out of my team. Or I don’t really know how can I trust that my team is doing what they are supposed to, or what they say they’re going to do. These are management skills that can be taught, that you can learn. I would recommend obviously, first place to go is to check out our Knowledge Suite and to check out our YouTube page, because we talk about management skills and how you can build management skills. And we talk about remote work, hybrid work, work from home as a management skill specifically. So check us out on YouTube; Solutions Explained by Roman 3. Or on our Knowledge Suite, and we’ll provide links to that in the descriptions. and yeah all the doodads for the podcast.

[COBY]: We should had, before you started saying that, Shameless Plug Alert. But no, but you’re, you are right. And actually, I think even because, like one of the things, the reasons why we thought this was an important topic to talk about, was we’ve seen tons of articles on, like you know, and requests for experts on how to get people back to the office. And that’s the big question. How do we get employees back to the office? And I think you actually really brought the better question forward. We should stop asking the question, how do we bring people back to the office? And we should start asking the question, how can we become as successful at leading hybrid or work from home teams as we are leading fully in-person teams? And that really should be the question. We should, that we should be seeing articles focusing on. And not how do we go back to status quo? How do we become better with the tools that we have now? And I really think that, is the one of the big takeaways that that people should really have from this. Is that the questions about how do you get people back, or the best ways to bring people back to the office, top 10 tips to bring your workforce back. It really should be how do we get managers better at leading hybrid and work from home teams?

[JAMES]: Absolutely, and what I find so funny about that whole, that question of how do I how do I get my employees to come back to the office? Just by asking, if you are asking yourself that question, then you need to do some serious reflection. Why are people refusing to go back to the office? What is it about your environment that drives people away? Why would people, why do people prefer to work from home, rather than go into the office? If, it could be a big red flag that you have some substantial workplace culture issues present in your office, and people are avoiding the stress the harassment, the bullying, the, you know, lack of psychological safety, the micro management. There’s so many reasons why people would, if you’re asking yourself, if you’re struggling to get your employees to return to the office, it’s time to do some reflective introspection.

[COBY]: Absolutely. All right I think I want to kind of wrap this up with kind of a summary. So we talked about, there is, the working from home and hybrid work is a tool and that it’s something that we have been exposed to since COVID lockdowns and something that, you know, we really should be trying to get the most out of. There are legitimate, not legitimate, and false equivalency reasons that people are trying to force employees back to the office. But the real question should be about whether or not they’re trying to create busy employees, that are easier to monitor and micromanage in the workplace. Or if they’re trying to create productive employees who are empowered to bring their best work, where or whenever, they can, they can do that, in a more of a results-based work. We need to stop asking the question how do we get people to come back to the office, and we should start asking the question; how can we become successful at leading hybrid or work from home teams as we are leading fully in person teams? And I think that if we can look at this whole issue with a new perspective and kind of reflect on why we have this implicit bias to convention? If we’re trying to get people back to the way things always were, I think we might be able to actually get the most out of this new tool, this normalized tool of work from home, and hybrid work, and actually create better workplaces and more productive companies.

[JAMES]: Excellent.

[COBY]: All right so that about does it for us. So For a full archive of our podcasts and access to the video version hosted on our YouTube channel visit our website at Thanks for joining us.

[JAMES]: Thanks everyone.

[ANNOUNCER]: For more information on topics like these don’t forget to visit us at Side effects of this podcast may include improved retention, high productivity, increased market share, employees breaking out in spontaneous dance, dry mouth, aversion to the sound of James’s voice, desire to find a better podcast…

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