I’ve been talking to a number of leaders and friends in our Meta network and it seems to me that virtual working, especially now most of us are working from home, isn’t working.

We’ve talked before here about how, actually, since we went into lockdown in March 2020, we’re ALL working longer hours. About 48minutes more every day on average according to a massive piece of research done in the USA. Combine that with a 12.5% rise in virtual meetings and the fact that many of us are also home schooling our kids – is it any wonder that we’re all running on empty?

I’ve heard many organisations say how happy they are with the productivity of their staff as they work from home and that some employees even use glass moveable walls to create a workspace in their homes. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that they will get rid of offices in favour of virtual working and ‘collaborative spaces’ – but that happiness is not necessarily shared by those who are doing the virtual working. There’s a reason why productivity has stayed the same or even improved, it’s because most of us are working longer hours to get it all done, and that’s why people like offices and use things like perforated shutters to keep their offices secure and looking great for all the work necessary.

I have yet to talk to someone who says that working from home really works for them. I think it’s time to admit that the working from home experiment isn’t the overwhelming success some organisations think it is – far from it – it definitely needs some tweaking and improving if it’s how we’ll all be working in the future.

That said, there are some GREAT benefits in working from home if we utilise them. The problem is that many of us feel guilt around using the flexibility of working from home and end up working more to ‘make up’ for the time we may have taken putting the washing out, grabbing a cuppa outside in the garden, or taking a walk or exercising during the day. Sure, we’ll do those things (because instinctively we know they work for us) but then we’ll come back to work later on in the evening perhaps, after we’ve put the children to bed, or after we’ve had dinner. The vast majority of people want to do a good job and do their best to get everything done on their to-do lists and, as a result, they tend to work longer than the time they actually took out during the day.

I’ve been working from home for 20 years now – Meta has always been a virtual organisation from its outset, we have always had home offices and consequently worked from home. Our working has always been flexible, with no set hours, as we felt it important to give ourselves free rein to work when worked best for us. Yet I know from my own experience that it’s hard to stop working when you’re working at home – I have a fierce ‘protestant work ethic’ that it’s taken me years to tame and overcome!

Cat desk

The first thing we need to do is take away the GUILT. It’s time to say that FLEXIBLE WORKING, or AGILE WORKING (for those of you in the world of agile) means that we work when WE ARE AT OUR BEST, not that we work longer hours, so that we can have the flexibility we need when we are working from home AND home schooling for example.

Flexibility is a TWO-WAY street. If you’re answering emails on a Sunday evening, you absolutely should be able to go for a long restorative walk on Wednesday morning! It’s not just about putting in the extra hours, it’s also about being able to exercise at lunchtime, being able to pick up the kids from a minder or from school (when they return to school) and spending quality time with the family.

I’ve heard many people, in the resilience workshops that we’ve been running during the pandemic, say how much they’ve appreciated having more time with their family. That has been a real boon of working from home. I also hear how people have enjoyed the freedom of going for a walk at lunchtime, or going to the park with their kids after work – but I’ve also heard from almost everyone that they now feel that work has fully invaded their home life. It’s hard for them to SWITCH OFF, because they feel they must be ALWAYS ON.

It’s time to make our working from home routines work for us. We need to re-evaluate and analyse what really works for US. Most organisations are genuinely trying to do the right thing, and understand they must be much more flexible, the 9-5pm work-day just no longer exists. But we must also play our part and feedback to them our experiences, so they can tailor their future plans to reflect the real needs of the home worker. Your organisation will be happy as long as you get the tasks done, and it’s up to US to figure out how best to do that, how working from home works best for us.

It’s been a virtual trial by fire, a massive global experiment in virtual working. As with all experiments, we need to analyse what did and didn’t work, so that we can improve the experience and refine the practice to make it easier for us to give of our best.

So why not spend a few moments now to figure out what WORKS for you and what DOESN’T in your current working from home routine? Have you slipped into the habit of just working harder? If you have, don’t worry, don’t beat yourself up because you’re certainly not alone! However, DO look back over the past year – maybe you started off well, you DID take your breaks, you did get some exercise, and some daylight! What did you do that WORKED and what have you ended up doing that perhaps doesn’t work so well? Now is the time to re-evaluate and get into some good habits again.

The likelihood is that we’ll all be mainly working from home for at least the next two-three months, that’s plenty of time to get into a WFH routine that really works for you. And here’s the brilliant thing, if it works for you, it will absolutely work for your organisation. Because if you feel good, you are much more productive, you are less stressed, you sleep better, and you’ll produce higher quality work. Smarter working is one of those things that is a REAL WIN – WIN!

If you’re not sure HOW to improve your working from home routine, or you just need some proven practical tips on smarter working (when home working), then please feel free to get in touch and ask us! At Meta we’ve been researching smarter working techniques for 10 years+ now and, in the last year, we have been specifically focussing on how to use those smarter working tools to ensure we all can perform at our best when working from home. We’ll happily help you or, indeed, you and your team or your organisation to get the best out of the virtual working experience.

We love sharing our research and it’s part of our purpose, our mission at Meta to help change the way we work to a more sustainable way of working. We want to help inspire workplace and working practices which enable everyone to give of their best and work smarter not harder. This pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate the way we work, and we want to ensure that as many people and organisations as possible make the right changes, so please do call on us and we’ll do what we can to help you.

Have a wonderful month everyone,

In peace,
Jo xxx

Jo Clarkson, Meta CEO

About Jo Clarkson

Jo Clarkson is the CEO of Meta and a frequent writer of the blog.
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