We very recently celebrated the new Lunar New Year, known to many as Chinese New Year. Like celebrating Christmas or other festivals, the lead up can certainly be a scramble, with many jobs to do, and we have to fit work in too! Looking back on the previous two months, the ability to work flexibly from home now seems like it was a life saver! I’d never have been able to achieve what I wanted to achieve in my household without this.
But what do others say?
Catching up with several of my friends over the celebratory period, many were interested in how I managed to make working from home productive for me, both in the work context and the home context. In fact, many I spoke to were having to struggle between allocating time for work and then for home related matters.
What I drew from my conversations with them, was that they agreed that they didn’t structure their home working space either physically or mentally, such that they felt the need to be present in front of their computers constantly. This they said drained them, as eventually they started skipping meals, and delayed their attention to their children at the times of the day that they should have devoted to them. Without a doubt, over an extended period of time, this mentality would decrease productivity at both ends – work and home – which is obviously not the intended result of having a flexi-work arrangement from home to start with! Don’t get me wrong, they agree that working from home is an option that they appreciate and welcome, but they do acknowledge that some adjustments are needed by both themselves and their employers in order to optimise productivity and retain sanity.
We came to a consensus that setting up a dedicated “work” area and a separate home “play” area is critical. Work remains at the work station and not amongst a pile of laundry. In a common standard working day, we start at 8.30am, take lunch between 12 and 1, and finish at 5.30pm. (Ok, maybe we get on emails for an hour or so again after dinner with the family…) This is exactly how it should be at home as well! We still need to eat, and have a mental refresh or coffee break when needed.
As a team manager, I am not a believer of clocking time and equating this to work completed. I used to work for a company where they were so strict with being on time for just about everything (other than finishing the day and leaving work!) Time-based presence means that the company culture is a clock-watching one. Employees became paranoid when someone fixes a meeting near 5pm, because that would mean working longer hours for them.
There are those who we know who are totally focused on work, no matter what home issues there are; so much so that they’re blind to it. There are also some who constantly feel guilty about not paying enough attention to either work or home, and end up not managing either effectively. Aside from the work area setup at home, it is also aboutprioritisation.
For employers, it is important to communicate that flexi-workers are not an “exception” in a company, and that employees can choose to work from home not because they’re mothers or fathers, but simply to have an alternative workspace that works best for the employee at that moment. I think this could be openly and formally communicated throughout the organisation either by management or by HR, so that other employees who are office-based understand and respect such a working arrangement with colleagues who work from home. This should be communicated during the induction of new employees. If the intention is to also provide video collaboration tools, then user training would be necessary to ensure that employees will be able to use them properly.
Organisations such as the NTUC Women’s Development Secretariat (NTUC WDS) in Singapore are drawing up supporting guidelines as part of the Family-Friendly Labour Movement in regards to flexi-work arrangements. They are are providing case studies that demonstrate companies already successful in implementing flexi-work arrangements, which include working from home as one of the options. The Singapore Government’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is also supporting this by showing how harnessing the right types of technology can help. There are of course different challenges that face different companies – check out what they are here with the Top 10 Challenges with Remote Collaboration and how companies can overcome them.
As an employee of Polycom, I would say we’re extremely family-friendly as we practice what we preach with regards to flexible working. 100 per cent of Polycom's employees are equipped with tools like video conferencing technology, which supports our flexible working policy. Many of my colleagues take advantage of this opportunity to allow them to work from home or work remotely when they need to.
A positive trust culture has been a key factor in Polycom Singapore’s work-life harmonisation success. We manage by key result areas. Employees set clear and measurable goals up front with their managers and review them regularly to ensure that milestones and expectations are met regardless of daily working location.
For me, it’s a fact: working from home can enhance work-life harmony.