Adapting to a new normal: Where work and home collide

Up until about 3 weeks ago, the conversation about productivity and effectiveness in our home and work lives were discreet, but inevitably connected topics.  The events of the past few weeks has involved many HUGE changes, thrusting swathes of workers for whom “normal”, was to go to work and interact with people, to now have to operate in a completely remote manner.  If that were not difficult enough for many people, the broader circumstances of school closures and being “locked down” have made this a very challenging period.

There have been monumental efforts of IT departments, service providers and of course users that has enabled this to happen in such a dramatic and rapid fashion.  It is a credit to those involved that so many people are now able to work effectively during this time.   When we look at organisations up and across the country (and world), their offices – tangible icons of a company’s power and presence are deserted.  Teams and departments are now operating in a fundamentally different virtual mode of operation – and this will persist, it seems, for a foreseeable period.

My focus is on the impact of this change, and what it will mean to users in the coming weeks.  Many organisations have implemented the shift, and users are now working at home and those that haven’t yet, soon will.  The initial frantic activity to equip and enabling users to access resources remotely will die down, and we should divert our attentions to focus on the impacts that this shift will have on users.

Working from home used to be a privilege for many, but it can be and always was difficult to do effectively.  Many people have learnt the lessons and can apply these in the current situation we find ourselves in.  But for many, this is a whole new world.  Some observations and “watch points” for your users and teams to potentially consider:

  • We are not used to working in this way: Fairly obvious, but these are challenging and uncertain times for many people.  People are now isolated within their own homes, and from their teams and other support networks.  Its important to consider after the initial melee of getting users set up for work, how they’re feeling and ensuring they are connected and engaged with work.  Over the next few months as we continue to adapt to this new normal, that will no doubt become more difficult as the novelty of virtualised social activities potentially starts to wear off.
  • We need to strike a balance between home and work: This is incredibly difficult now. Many people are unprepared for long stints of working from home, so potentially don’t have the equipment and physical space to have a designated “work zone”.  Add to this the complexity of children being at home, and I imagine the challenge becomes exponentially worse.  If we can’t achieve demarcation through the space in the home, then it’s important to try to do this through time.  It’s easy to work a little earlier or later and just finish that “one more thing”, but this just makes it harder to take the break and focus the mind on other topics, allowing you to do both work and life with a freshness and energy required
  • We cant be “always on calls”: The collaboration technologies that are enabling us to work this way are a huge bonus. I think had this situation occurred 5/10 years ago when we only had email and phone – what that would have meant for viability of this working model and the engagement of people in these circumstances.  But the calls/meetings can be relentless. Its easy (I’ve done it) to sit for 6/7 hours a day without particularly stopping for a break, venturing outside for fresh air or taking a proper meal break.  I’ve suffered head-ache, back-ache to name just two impacts of how I’m working today – and I’m lucky with a good home office set up to accommodate this.  The individual needs to manage this – take more breaks than usual, create specific working or planning time to give you time to do the important stuff and achieve objectives
  • It feels like Groundhog Day: I am not sure how you’re finding it, but I typically knew where in the week it was because if it was Monday or Friday I’d probably be working at home. Now everyday blends into all the others, and without the natural variety of work travel, different types of meetings – the days can feel very “samey”.  I’d encourage people to think about different “events” in their week that they can use to anchor a sense of time – maybe the run you do on a Tuesday before work? Or the virtual social you do once a week with the team – just to get some context

We need to consider this as a journey.  Whilst it’s been difficult so far, equipping users is just step one, and a onetime event.  The next challenge is more enduring to supporting users as they adapt to this situation and become effective – for however long it lasts.  This could be in the provision of new tools and functionality, training on new features, or more pastoral or health and well-being support to ensure users are able to be productive.  And when we are out of this, and we again redefine what “normal” is, how do we optimise to take the best of what we’ve learnt and implemented – from technology platforms to user behaviour and re-strike a balance that better supports and enables people to work wherever and however they choose.

As we get closer to getting out of this, more answers on what to take and learn from this will become much clearer, giving us a window of opportunity to act and make changes that could benefit users and businesses moving forwards.


Take care of yourselves and your families,


About Paul Bray

Paul is Computacenter’s Chief Technologist for Computacenter in the UK & Ireland @PSBray

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