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Is there such a thing as a perfect solution to a complex question?

A number of organisations feel that there are substantial advantages to getting people to work from home rather than the more traditional format of working in a single building with others. We have discussed this in the past and although I can see some quite important improvements that can be achieved by giving staff the ability to work flexibly from home, not to mention the cost benefits of reducing the requirement for office space particularly in the major cities. There are some downsides.

The positives are easy to identify:

  • individuals whose work doesn’t require them to be in a group, can often be more productive
    • can reduce the overheads to the business
    • achieve a better work life balance 
    • avoid some of the problems that happen at work when cliques form, and groups decide that they don’t want to get on with each other.

I’m sure you can think of others.

However, there are other needs to be borne in mind. For a workforce which consists of younger people who do not yet have a young family, work provides a valuable social interaction as well as an ability to earn money. In a department I once managed the social interaction actually made for a highly productive staff because they all felt that they were on the same team. 

  • they went out socialising together and although occasionally if one or two of them fell out with each other these issues were soon mended and the overall atmosphere in this department was always positive.
  • in addition, with correct management (and I don’t take credit for this this was largely due to my deputies and team leaders) nobody’s ideas were disregarded and on many occasions people who perhaps were the most junior could come up with the most elegant solutions to problems that we faced.

If all of them had been working from home (as indeed most of them could) then this interaction and this swapping of ideas would not have happened.

Likewise, it is rare in any larger organisation that anybody’s job is separate from everybody else’s in the organisation, there will always be interactions and these interactions can often lead to solutions to problems and indeed business growth which would not have happened if they were all working separately.

Finally, there is no getting away from the fact that we are social however we try to replace face to face social interaction with online screen sharing or video conferencing it will never replace the richness and texture of actually being in the same place as somebody and getting to know them properly.

As for work life balance somebody who has a family has a different view of work life balance than somebody in their early 20s who is

  • single
  • has moved to a new city and
  • wishes to make friends as quickly as possible

Let’s not assume that all work life balance is the same for every individual. Some work will not be possible to do from home, so:

how do you explain to someone who is not being given the opportunity to work from home, that they are being treated fairly?

What do you say to someone who can work from home, if they would rather be in the office? Forcing someone to work from home is a change of location and could be classed as a redundancy.

Maybe the current vogue for hybrid working has more to do with poor management in the workplace than any improvement in work/life balance.