Homeworking - The devil is in the detail (or inside your house?)
July 6st 2020: “Fujitsu to slash office space in homeworking drive. It announced that approximately 80,000 Japan-based Fujitsu Group employees will begin to primarily work on a remote-basis to achieve a working style that allows them to flexibly use their time according to the contents of their work, business roles, and lifestyle”.
Fujitsu may be one of the first but they aren’t for sure the only company that is contemplating to drastically change their way of working. A bold move, for sure. But is it a good one? In particular, looking at young professionals and their needs, I believe serious risks are involved.
Company DNA – one of the key facilitators of employee retention
For the last couple of years employer branding has been one of the - if not THE – most-used buzzwords in the world of HR. Plenty of money has been spent on positioning companies as the “best employer” where it is a good place to work, to have fun, to learn, and to grow. Creating an environment that empowers its people while being surrounded by inspiring and warm colleagues. Lots of efforts have been made to effectively change the way of working - looking at best practices from innovating, quite often scale-up companies. And rightly so.
Observing and working with millennials for almost 10 years now, learned me that they are really purpose-driven and above all co-creators. Great teamwork, having an impact, a good relationship with their direct manager, and being inspired by their colleagues, are key drivers for Gen Y to stay at their employer. Even despite the potential bigger salaries they can get elsewhere.
An employer brand and company DNA are not only about having sustainable products, supply chains, or low carbon heating systems. It’s above all about how people collaborate and interact with each other. Zoom and Teams based ecosystems are without any doubt highly efficient and in quite some cases the right channels to use. However, they are not suitable to create a bonding, coaching, and in particular differentiating company culture. It rather facilitates a mechanical, “one-size fits all” way of working across companies. And as such the employee flight risk gets high when i.e. a higher salary is being offered by a competitor.
The busy ones versus the forgotten ones
When Covid-19 kicked in, formal and even informal meetings were massively being planned– just to make sure “we stayed connected” and “involved” in this strange period in time. Efficient, rational, focused… we were very much aware of what was going on. That was the overall feeling after a couple of weeks. However, a lot of my friends and colleagues, as like myself, experienced another aspect: being “overdemanded” or “overinvolving” ourselves. This is obviously linked to the role they/we have in the company: working with many stakeholders.
Now imagine being a young professional that just started in a new role, being in full onboarding time. Needing to learn a lot about this new job you started a month ago. Not having many stakeholders to talk to. Not having a network or even knowing how to network yet. Or – alternatively – imagine employees in general that work in expert jobs that require less interaction with others (i.e. some finance roles, software development,…). Their interaction with colleagues will be dramatically lower than the ones being overdemanded or overinvolved. The simple facts of having a coffee together, commuting from A to B, having lunch together… are fueling team play and belongingness. With clear consequences on bonding, team play, creativity, innovation, and in the end employee retention.
Managers and company leaders, it’s not because you are being much more efficient and have the feeling to be much more “in control” through home & video working…that all employees are.
Informal learning – more important than formal learning
For millennials, learning is one of their key career drivers and motivational factors. There is clear evidence of the importance of informal learning, next to formal learning (intentional through courses, workshops,…). Informal learning is unplanned and highly linked to the working environment and context. A company’s culture, policies, and way of organizing work are crucial as such to facilitate informal learning at the workplace. Research done by several academic institutions (i.e. by Prof Kyndt & Raes) learned that informal learning requires permanent cooperation, communication, interaction and regular feedback, coaching and reflection.
The key question is: how are we going to facilitate informal learning through homework?
As food for thought, I would like to share with you the outcome of a joint ‘live” brainstorming exercise we did with the Crossbridge team on how to keep a good balance in home- versus office working:
We want to keep both: regular physical working together and homework
We want the physical working together days to be mainly organized for informal communication, talks, brainstorming and…fun
We want our colleagues to have some individual freedom on planning, as long as it does not impact other colleagues or the companies interest in general
What came out, practically:
we will be, the whole team, together in the office 2 days per week
these days will not be fully booked by meetings (only brainstorming or general update meetings allowed)
homework or additional office work can be freely chosen the other days by employees
all tactical meetings will be held through teams on a “non” office day
The devil is in the detail.