What makes the difference whether or not WFH works well?
Considering some role conflicts or overload some people, especially (in the old role models) female professionals, were in, doing their own job parallel to childcare and/or home-schooling and managing the household no one should be surprised that the productivity of these people in their professional job is lower in a WFH pattern.
When speaking with leaders about their experience with WFH in their organisations or teams I can clearly recognise why research studies produce different results.
They also admit, possibly inadvertently, that they would need to see people in the office around them working on their jobs. In a study conducted in Germany, more than 25% of leaders admitted that they fear ‘loss of control’ over their direct reports when they are not working in the office. Hence, no one should be surprised that people working with such a leader may have less favourable conditions created by the organisation/their leader to be highly productive when working from home.
Obviously, if a leader believes that people need supervision and control to be productive why should he/she think about what could be done to support people working from home to maximise their productivity. Maybe these leaders’ mindset is driven by the old theory X, which assumes that people in general are lazy and need to be pushed to work. From my experience, an assumption that is unfounded for the majority of people working in organisations.
In the following, I will try to connect examples of what I consider best practice with some of the theoretical explanations why this approach might be most preferable. Of course, this is only valid if the conditions at home allow a reasonably ergonomic and undisturbed workplace and working conditions.
Let them choose!
In some organisations leaders are giving their people the freedom to choose when to work in the office and when to work from home. I would consider this as best practice.
The freedom to choose where to work from for me represents a high degree of autonomy at work. This is one of the three elements Daniel Pink describes in his book DRIVE. Pink’s research shows that these three elements, purpose-mastery-autonomy, are essential for fostering intrinsic motivation and engagement of people and organisations.
Of course, that alone would not guarantee success. You still must provide purpose and meaning for the work people must perform whether they are in the office or working from home.
I have heard from some leaders that the approach of letting people choose where to work from would-be too risky and potentially detrimental to their output and the performance of teams they are working in. However, I am convinced that most people who really understand the meaning of their contribution and the purpose of their work will make wise decisions, most likely within the team they are embedded in to find the right balance in their working patterns. It is your responsibility as a leader to ensure that people are deeply connected to meaning and purpose of their work. The importance of this aspect has also been revealed in a McKinsey study which I had covered in a recent blog post.
Of course, there may be abuse of the system by a few people. Yet, this should not be the driver to penalise the vast majority of people in the organisation. This reminds me of a statement of a senior HR leader in a large FMCG company who said that it was absurd to put systems in place which try to prevent 3% of the work force misbehaving and penalise 97% with extra layers of control. This implies that it is much better to have faith in the motivation of the 97% and trust that they will not abuse the system rather than the other way round.
I am fully aware that I might miss a point and the approach described might not fully fit your organisation, yet I would still recommend reflecting the willingness of your organisation or yourself to trust the people’s motivation.
Speed of trust
To reflect about trust and how it could help you to enable people to produce better results and make the team and the organisation more successful I highly recommend the book “The speed of trust” written by Stephen Covey. He explains how trust can help you to create the conditions for great success and sustainable productivity in your team or organisation. He describes 13 behaviours he found common to high trust leaders. He provides clear actionable insights which can help you to increase and inspire trust in your people and teams no matter which working pattern they choose to contribute to their team or the organisation.
And if you like to reflect on this subject further, I am happy to go for a deep dive combining my experience and those of leaders in my network and apply them to your specific situation. Please feel free to …