Ask different people how they felt at different points of this pandemic, and you'll get a range of answers. For some, remote work has been incredibly productive and offers more flexibility in their daily schedule. For others, it has been lonely and getting work done has felt nearly impossible.
There have undoubtedly been some terrific takeaways from the challenges we have all gone through together this year, and certainly lessons we will now carry with us into the future. But to say that working from home turned out to be the utopia we all hoped for would be a bit of a stretch. The truth is, many people miss seeing each other in-person.
But work-from-home culture is now established. This means there are a number of obstacles we will need to overcome to make things work for everyone.
1. Separating work life and personal life at home.
One of the first things I noticed working from home at the start of the pandemic was how blurred the lines had become between my work life and my personal/family life.
As an entrepreneur and the CEO of ThirdLove, there is already very little separation between those two worlds. My work and my life are completely intertwined. However, at least before the pandemic, I could drop my kids off at school, head to the office, and find some sort of separation through physical space alone. Now, as for any parents who work from home, there is little to no differentiation in our spaces.
If we are going to normalize working from home, then we are also going to have to normalize new ways of collaborating and communicating with our business partners, team members, and so on. This means being clear about each individual's work expectations and remote communication habits that will make them the most successful. And most important, this means helping each other find ways to mentally and physically separate work life and personal life.
2. Finding ways to stay motivated and focused.
One of the things my company has found in talking to our own employees about working from home is that many of them miss the hustle and bustle of the office.
When you work from home, you are alone. There are a lot of positives that come with that as well, like flexibility, no need to commute, having your own private space, etc. But with those benefits comes a significant trade-off: No one is going to come by your desk with an interesting idea, no one is going to see you in the common area and ask how you're doing, no one is going to see you walking by and pull you into an exciting brainstorming session or creative conversation.
Working from home might be more productive, but I'm not sure if it's more inspiring.
I do believe there are still ways to collaborate effectively from afar, but it takes more conscious effort. Conversations in an office can happen very organically, whereas over Slack or Zoom they have to be a bit more concretely initiated. So if businesses are going to continue working from home, then making it a point to engineer these more social, energetic moments throughout the day is going to be paramount.
3. Lack of space.
Not everyone has a dedicated at-home office.
One of the benefits of working for a company is the ability to leave your apartment or house and show up to a building that has been designed for effective work. You have a desk of some kind. A comfortable chair. Meeting rooms. You also have the ability to shift spaces frequently throughout the day. At big companies, this might mean working on different floors in the building, sitting in different common areas, spending an hour outside, etc.
At home, all these things become a lot harder. The solution to this problem used to be giving employees a stipend they could spend on a co-working space membership, or even a coffee fund they could use to work out of coffee shops instead. But during the pandemic, these options haven't been feasible. Other companies I know have given employees stipends to invest a bit in their at-home setups--upgrading their desk, chair, hanging a few plants on the walls, etc.
All in all, these weren't problems many of us considered in 2019. But as companies continue to play it safe, working from home becomes more normalized, and people out of work are forced to look for opportunities remotely, these are just a handful of the obstacles we will need to overcome in 2021 and beyond.