A New Workplace

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Work from home has gone mainstream as the dread of a menacing virus has shunted businesses in. The internet is replete nowadays with the pros and cons of workig remotely, of parents, kids and pets huddled around laptops and ipads as workplaces and homes merge blurring boundaries. Dining tables, couches and the ubiquotous Zoom video conferencing have speedily replaced the work stations and conference rooms at work.

While wfh is not a new concept by any means, it’s the first time it has gone mainstream albeit as an emergency response. For far too long we have been subjected to typical corporate brainwashing -about how open offices promote collaboration, of how a chance encounter at the water cooler leads to that million dollar idea and other convenient lies.

In industries like information technology where the raw material is knowledge and tech skills, it’s ironical that over collaboration and distraction filled open offices are touted as the norm. One could argue that home is hardly a distraction free workplace, yet with a little discipline and time management it can be a much more productive alternative.

Organizations are discovering that generally productivity has increased across the board as people are freed up from mindless commuting and the pressure to manage physically seperated homes and work spaces. It’s a win win in my mind for both employees and companies.

Of course the skeptics scoff and complain endlessly about the same rant of missing collaboration, going over to a colleague’s desk, face to face meetings or the managers losing control of their fiefdoms. Truth is that none of these are unsurmountable and it’s in human nature to adapt. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years now to survive.

Another interesting concept that takes an even broader view is “work from anywhere” which gives people the freedom to work from home, offices, coworking facilities, cafes, in short anywhere they want to work from. The idea is attractive but will take a while to hit critical mass. I hope it does.

There are already several companies that are thinking ahead and revisting their humongous real estate costs. Infact many have already announced plans to either go completely remote or enable a significant portion of their employees to wfh thereby reducing costs.

If we look back over the last few months everything that was once thought improbable has quickly become a reality. Interviews , hiring and onboarding have gone fully remote as have conferences, classroom trainings, leadership sessions and everything else that once required mandatory physical presence.

While its true that not every job can be performed remotely, there are a large number of others that easily can and all of us working remotely over last three months are a testimony to the fact. The question whether someone likes to wfh or office is a more personal one and not neccesarily an indicator of effectiveness of the model.

Sharing a few things that have been working for me:

  • Have a separate work area and work from the same place as far as possible
  • Manintain consistent work hours
  • Take breaks as you would at work and dont forget to hydrate, building planned breaks into your schedule is a great idea
  • Invest in a good quality chair and desk. Even outside of wfh arrangements, every home should have a distraction free area to sit and think. Believe me its a valuable investment.
  • Invest in good quality routers, mesh routers, laptops, phone stands, mouse and pads with hand rests, keyboards and monitors. Many organizations even reimburse their employees for initial setups.
  • Saving on commute time frees up the mornings which can be used for fitness – Meditate, jog, run, walk, do yoga but do use the time to get out of the house and get some fresh air. I like to combine my walks with listening to audio books and its a great way to start the day.
  • Now that you are home, mealtimes and household chores also need to be worked into the calendar. A little planning goes a long way in establishing a feeling of control.
  • Use the leisure for hobbies – writing, music, learning a new language or whatever strikes your fancy. It will keep you interested in life outside of work.
  • Last but not the least, self introspect. Maybe this time of adversity can open new doors for the future.

Quiet

“Introverts like being introverts. We are drawn to ideas, we are passionate observers, and for us, solitude is rich and generative”   

Some years ago I came across Susan Cain’s book “Quiet”. It talked about introversion in a very encouraging and insightful manner. Mostly introversion is looked down upon in the society. Right from childhood we are conditioned to believe that one needs to be outgoing and sociable to succeed in the world.

The way introverts were portrayed in schools, workplaces and even at home seemed like a character assassination to me. As a child I was reserved and loved books though I never had trouble making friends. I hated social occasions and crowds. As I grew up I discovered that I was very comfortable in small groups and could make good conversation with strangers.

But I knew I wasn’t someone who was the life of a party or who always wanted people around. On the contrary, I liked calm, meaningful discussions. So I knew I leaned more towards introversion on the social scale. It’s both impossible and futile to put labels around people to describe their unique and complex reactions to the world around them.

Introversion is often confused with shyness. I have no problems in starting a conversation around a table of strangers but I might not be the one to take the initiative always. I detest mundane small talk but can talk for hours on something that interests me. All of which are labelled as classic introvert traits.

In my mid forties I have started to understand myself a lot better. I have found that despite the social pressures to conform, being authentic to yourself is something I find most genuine and easy. I no longer go out of my way to be someone I’m not. Instead I find that I’m more at peace taking that solitary walk or reading a book.

In the corporate world, introverts suffer often. They are discouraged with banal comments like “low energy” , aloof or even arrogant at times. This despite the fact that they are excelling at their jobs and have the respect of their peers. I have never understood the compulsion to make everyone a “high energy” ,loud cheerleader.

Modern offices with their open area seating plans are a disaster for introverts. It feels like being in the middle of an endless din throughout the day. I like to take few walking breaks to keep myself sane. These workplaces touted for maximizing productivity often achieve quite the opposite result.

As unique beings all of us have certain quirks, idiosyncrasies and behaviors rooted in genetic and environmental causes. It’s impossible to club these myriad behaviors in a person and call them an introvert or an extrovert. But then that’s the way the world sees us.

I believe respect for individuality should be paramount. Live and let live.