In 2020 much of the world’s workforce has found itself working from home. This seismic shift has forced countless people from the ‘known’ in to the ‘unknown’.
In response there will be those that recognise the need to adapt and to refine their working practice to bring about optimal outcomes in this new working environment. Then there will be the ones that consider that they will just have to ‘muddle through’ until things go back to normal again.
Which one are you?
This situation is reflective of the book ‘Who moved my cheese?’ by Dr Spencer Johnson which, for those not familiar with the book, tells the story of two mice that go to the same place every day to get their cheese (being a metaphor for the workplace). Then one day the cheese is suddenly not there, and so begins the tale of how the two mice tackle this new situation; one with a growth mind-set (adapting their behaviour and looking for new cheese elsewhere) and one with a fixed mind-set (waiting there until the cheese, that they are ‘entitled to,’ returns).
There will be a lot of ‘displaced cheese’ in the world right now and, the bad news for those that are waiting for things to go back normal is that this may never happen.
The workplace is increasingly changing and evolving and with key forces, such as automation and globalisation, this trend is predicted to continue. The economic fall-out from 2020 onwards is likely to steepen this trajectory towards increasing change and ongoing instability. This cascades down to the world’s workforce with the need to upskill, to adapt, be nimble and to assume greater personal accountability in their professional lives. Sally Ann Williams from Google says, “The future for organizations lies in their developing cultures and habits of adaptability directed towards proactive creation. For individuals, the future will reward those able to invent their own job titles.”
So how does this relate to working from home?
The requirement to work remotely from your home location is a new set of conditions that we need to operate within professionally. This will require us to learn new things and that may be confronting for some; especially if we have worked hard to become good at what we do and we have earnt a certain reputation or professional equity. We now have to acquire a new set of skills and be willing to make mistakes (which we will) in order to adapt and evolve in our professional lives. We may feel that this is unfair – ‘this is not what I do, it’s just where I do it – It’s not a big deal and I’m too busy to concern myself with it!’
‘Working from home’ seems simple enough and up until recently was generally perceived as being a day at home doing what you normally do, but with a bit more time to be able to focus on things without any meetings or ‘water-cooler’ chats etc. Change the conditions to ‘working from home full-time and having to maintain professional effectiveness’ and everything changes.
Like many things, our understanding of working from home will be derived from our ‘frame of reference’. There are probably two perceptions of working from home: (1) Doing what I normally do, but at home (2) Working within a virtual, geographically-dispersed operating structure. The first one has some challenges as there will always be distractions and it may not be easy to focus at times – dogs will bark and toddlers will cry; but these can be overcome with some adjustment. The second one is much more complex and is more likely to require fundamental changes in the way that we currently operate – but it is certainly the most significant, and the one which will potentially separate the people that master this, from the people that ‘wait for things to go back to normal.’
In the book ‘How to work from home better’ we look at things such as; practical work methodology, time management, evolved communication skills for a virtual environment, managing a work-life balance, and establishing new behaviour to produce lasting results. I wrote the book based on the decade that I worked from my home office in Australia for my company in London. During this time I learnt so much and my intention in creating this book was to share some of this experience in order that others don’t have to learn the hard way (like I had to on many occasions) and to create some sort of framework to be able work through this process in an organised way.
It is presented sequentially, so that it will help people get set up (such as sitting on a comfortable chair etc), but the central theme in the book is the process of recalibrating our fixed attitudes and perceptions of the ‘workplace’ as we know it, and adapting and evolving our habits and behaviour to be more flexible, and more relevant to satisfying our work/life challenges and demands.
Uncertainty will always create tension and there are many people who are now working from home with no clear idea of what to expect, and what is expected of them. They feel isolated, they don’t know what metrics are being used to measure their productivity, they are struggling to focus and are worrying about their careers and their job security.
There is help available. Learn and apply the process; then the ‘unknown’ will become the ‘known’ and these new skills will ultimately help you in moving forward.
The Charles Darwin quote at the very top of this article is hugely significant to the central theme in the book – one of ‘collaboration’ and ‘improvisation’: ‘In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed’.
So why do we NEED to master working from home?
Because the skills and characteristics required in doing so are the ones that will help us to ‘prevail’. By adapting to the ongoing ‘shifting-sands’ of the workplace we will be progressively evolving our behaviour to meet the demands of new environmental conditions.
We are all familiar enough with Darwin’s work to know what happens to the ones that do not ‘prevail’. If you are not looking to adapt and evolve in your professional life, then you could be writing your own name on the list of ‘endangered species’.