#WFH: BIG Difference with Generations!
MEET Pete (cont.2)
Pete also finds a big difference between the generations. In general, he finds the younger people (20s and 30s) to be more flexible than those that are older (50s and 60s). He finds that the level of trust depends on the individual, how long they have been with the company and the person’s maturity. He is concerned that the older folks may not be as tech savvy and might have a difficult adjustment to make to work from home. On the other hand, young people are not necessarily more or less trustworthy than older folks.
Pete admits that continuing the remote workplace beyond the immediate future would require a makeover of the organizational structure. They are used to a face-to-face environment and structurally are not prepared for the virtual workplace. Most of their Learning and Development is done in a show and tell kind of setting, with individual managers coming off the production lines to demonstrate. There are a lot of logistic issues ranging from space to equipment. He admits the company is more old school with their information systems being housed on site behind a firewall. Authentication, dual sign on, and other more modern techniques are out of their wheelhouse. They are not a cloud-based company and really had no plans to move in that direction. They do not have a portal and home is a quite different online environment than on site. It is really VPN access to a few network drives and email. They also do not have an intranet.
At the bottom of all this, there is still an issue of trust. If the bosses feel comfortable with the individual, like Pete, who has been with the company for eight years, and has shown loyalty and dedication, there is a higher level of trust. If the individual is newer or there are difficulties with the work environment at home, there is less trust. One of Pete’s employees has a home situation where there are two spouses and three children, all being schooled from home, sharing a small apartment in the San Francisco Bay area. Two other team members are younger, in their twenties, and share a ridiculously small apartment because of the expensive rent, and are now both working from the kitchen table. There are issues with noise and privacy and babysitting. Another issue is time management and that really depends on the person’s ability to manage themselves. Pete mentions that often these same issues with time management showed themselves in the face-to-face workplace but have been magnified with people working remotely.
On a scale of 1 to 4, 1 being I do not want to do this anymore and 4 I love it, he would be a 3. Pete really likes working from home but considers himself an extrovert and likes face-to-face contact. To work from home full time would require some planning and reengineering of his job role. His wife works from home three days a week and has for years. He also has a daughter, a sophomore in college who is now studying from home, and another older daughter, and everyone is using the same internet connection which really can strain the bandwidth with everyone on synchronous platforms simultaneously. They have multiple hubs, but it is still a strain on the systems.
It is also a strain on relationships. His wife told him he is loud, and he talks all day long, which he fully admits to and describes it as the nature of his position, which is Vice President of Human Resources. He is online all day long, answering questions and interacting with people’s problem and issues. It is not easy to share the same physical space with anyone. He does not miss the forty-five-minute commute each way, each day, at all. He appreciates being able to sleep in a bit more and get up and start working without the traffic and hassles. Some of the people he works with do two-hour ommutes. When he first started working remotely, he felt that he was always on. He could not find the off button and was experiencing stress and burnout. He admits to taking calls at dinnertime from owners because of expectations and fear of turning things off. This is common in the virtual workplace depending on management, expectations, and trust levels. Pete does think he works more in the remote environment because of the 24/7 connectivity and of course the crisis mode of COVID-19. He equates it to working for a startup, with longer hours, both earlier and later. He is doing his best to establish a routine, including exercise three days a week, and that is helping to stabilize his new work environment.
His suggestion for moving forward in the remote environment is to create a set of deliverables and clear expectations for employee performance. Developing a way to measure productivity, a consistent communication schedule and hiring the right people are important. He strongly feels not everyone is cut out for the remote workplace. He also feels that it is not for every position, operations or management. If people are going to work from home, they need an environment that is suitable and sustainable. Also, they need clear expectations and the ability to set boundaries. He finds the remote workplace blurs boundaries.
When I asked Pete six months later, this is what he said: Working from home can work for many roles that at one time we thought were impossible. We are working on establishing new guidelines, telecommuting policies, proper ergonomic set-up and applicable reimbursement for expenses. Managers are trying to develop expectations tied to results, metrics and deliverables, and to communicate these. The manager’s mindset is shifting from “checking up to checking in” on their staff. Managers need to learn to trust their employees and know that they are working productively and efficiently, which is another reason we need to develop the metrics. Working from home is not as easy as going next door to talk with my staff. There is more time spent on communications but there are less interruptions. The mindset of the owners is shifting, and they now support working from home. Working from home is a work in progress. I don’t think it is as efficient as when I’m in the office, but I am redefining it, and it is improving, he says. What will happen next is hugely unknown. A lot of it depends on the company’s revenue. If revenue picks up and increases, then we will hire more staff. Right now, the company is in a holding pattern and managing “must haves.” Right now, we are doing more with less. We need to improve our means, mode and style of communications. This is key. #WFH will be part of our future.
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