Home-working, not shirking.

Career development / Culture and values
Phil Purver
By Phil Purver | 28th October 2020

If you've been tuning into the CareerBurst webinars recently, you may have caught me introducing the latest instalment: 'A shirker? Who, me?', in which Sarah Hobbs of Talent and Potential, discussed how to build trust and ensure your hard work is visible while working from home.

Talking on the topic was an interesting call for me: early in my career, frequent travel to meet clients and partners often allowed me to be creative with my time! Accounting for my whereabouts sometimes proved a challenge when I'd arranged a game of golf with mates following a meeting. I was never a "serial" shirker but certainly enjoyed the odd digression from my duties. With experience, I learned how to navigate these arrangements and found ways to balance freedom and accountability for myself and others.

At no point in my career have I signed up to the cult of busyness as a measure of worth or productivity. Instead, I prefer to operate from a place of trust, where team members engage with work within flexible boundaries.

But 2020, with its new Covid restrictions, has brought further complications to the concept of 'shirking'. Today's climate is forcing many people to do work from home, regardless of their preference or experience. Being thrown into a new way of working during an already stressful time can bring up feelings of insecurity and fear. Perhaps you work in an organisation where historically, working from home was seen as a polite euphemism for shirking? Or maybe your business is going through a restructure as a result of the economic climate, and you feel unable to communicate how hard you're working to keep your job.

No matter where you're coming from, Sarah had some great tips in the webinar to help raise your profile, which should help you feel more secure, visible and trusted by your boss.

Firstly, don't assume that by working from home, you're on a back foot. Many organisations have found that productivity has increased during Lockdown. People aren't wasting time travelling to and from meetings, and are less distracted while at their desk. So even if your boss can't see you doing the work, it's likely they've noticed the results.

Secondly, Sarah suggests:

  • Don't assume your boss knows what you're doing. Feel free to remind them, with regular status reports.
  • Know what your boss cares about and prioritise your efforts so you can meet - or manage - their expectations.
  • Be a team player. Useful contributions to peers are noticeable, and with support behind you, you'll feel more secure and valued.
  • Use team meetings well: understand the agenda and prepare as best you can.
  • Balance good and bad news - do your emails raise a smile more often than a groan?
  • Pick up the phone and voice your opinion in discussions, so you feel part of what is going on, and your contributions are heard.

But what if your focus has slipped or you've suffered a productivity dip due to outside pressures? Don't panic. Bosses are human too and understand that unprecedented circumstances may have unprecedented repercussions. Listening to the webinar certainly made me reflect on how my team are doing outside of work.

For parents who've been catching up after months of homeschooling or who are still juggling current school shutdowns, how is this impacting their working day? What about those with family in areas of tighter restrictions? Are they worried about isolated elderly relatives or students who are away from home for the first time?

How is work-life? Are my team members happy working from home? Do they feel the need to prove themselves? How is their working environment? Some may be adapting to a setting that's less than ideal; perhaps they don't have a printer, a desk in a private room or fail-safe WiFi connection? Are they missing the peer support or social interaction of the office? Has their workload or role changed? Are they worried about their future in the organisation?

I've always tried to take time to check in with colleagues to see how they're doing. I'd hate to think they felt stressed about my perception of their work efforts. But now it's even more essential to stay in touch. Often, putting aside work for a quick chat about what's going on in a colleague's life is all it takes. Communication is key.

Because if we're to make the best of this 'new normal', we have to be honest about its ups and downs. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt, pull together and shake off any association between working from home and shirking. As Josh Bersin said in his article on the way we evaluate leadership back in March, 'in today's world, the CEO has to be the "Chief Empathy Officer" first.'

The recording of the CareerBurst webinar: "A shirker? Who, me?" is available here

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