Working from Home: Managing Expectations in the Digital Age

Working from Home: Managing Expectations in the Digital Age

Indira Rao

Senior Marketing Professional; Telecom Industry, USA

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Every generation defines work ethics a bit differently; And every generation views itself as having a superior work ethic than the following ones. Yet, as people move through different phases of life, their expectations from work evolve and seem to get closer to those of the prior generation.

Working from Home is one such aspect at workplaces. Employees are increasingly prioritizing the quality of family life on par with work – work need not be all-consuming. With significant advances in technology over the last decade or so, and especially since the COVID 19 pandemic, they are realizing they can be productive from any place where there is a secure internet connection.

Not just administrative work, but data sourcing, engineering, analytics, product development, marketing, customer servicing and a host of other applications are seen as possible.

So, naturally, many employees are asking – “Why not?” – Why cannot I be working from home or from anywhere I want to? Why not allow me to enjoy working from the comfort of my home, while also helping me better manage my personal life? Why not trust me to be equally, if not more, productive?

Working from Home – Yes or No?

These are all legitimate questions that companies are forced to address. How they are responding depends on the company culture, their workforce demographics, the type of function and even financial considerations (many companies had committed investments into real estate prior to the pandemic and are now forced to honor their agreements).

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Many are forcing employees to be back in the offices, for at least part of the week; others are allowing them the flexibility to decide the nature of hybrid work.

How employees are responding can vary by age group and gender. Those with young children or elderly dependents (mostly women but increasingly, men too) are looking for flexibility of working from home. Not just when it comes to which days to come into the office but even which hours of the day they need to be home.

There are others that have no such responsibilities but just truly feel more productive when they are working from home, with no distractions or office politics.

And then there are the traditionalists, believing in showing up at work and putting their full day’s work in the office. Such differing levels of expectations within an organization can be disruptive and frequently cause resentment among the latter, as they have a different perspective on such “entitlements”. So, how does one navigate such expectational dynamics?

Busting the “entitlement” myth

If you have young children or elderly parents that you need to care for, finding the time and right resources to help without sacrificing your deliverables at work can be hard. At the same time, demands placed by your peers and management to continually prove your engagement and dedication can be very stressful.

The following principles can provide a plausible approach –

  • To the extent possible, maintain a regular hybrid schedule and not be erratic from one week to another about when you need to be working from home.
  • Share your schedule and any updates regularly with your teammates and partners.
  • Ensure you are always reachable during working hours, and share your preference on how to be reached – email, text, call, chat, etc.
  • During times of high demand at work – for example, as you near tight deadlines – arrange for alternative caregivers at home, when possible.
  • Trust and credibility are important for a healthy work-life balance, so when presented with an opportunity, go above and beyond.
  • Be there in times of critical need, while establishing boundaries and delegating responsibly, so that you are not solely being burdened. Step up and ensure successful delivery of output.
  • This will demonstrate leadership and trust, which is often reciprocated with flexibility in your time of need.

If you don’t have demanding responsibilities at home, you may still prefer to be working from home for a few days a week or month.

The onus is on you to make the case and prove your worth.

This could be done in different ways –

  • Having an honest conversation with your manager and key associates about working from home is the first step.
  • Laying out the productivity benefits of alone-time at home in defence of your work style and offering a trial for a reasonable period to prove your point, might convince them
  • Be proactive and, when possible, offer to take the lead on a challenging project; as it is an opportunity to prove your commitment.
  • Do you have specific skills that might be of value to others in the team?  Share your expertise.
  • Since your request for hybrid work is a privilege and not a prerogative, always be prepared to step up in times of need. Otherwise, just an appearance of unfounded advantage can work against you.

Thriving in an evolving work culture

If you believe in a traditional work culture that separates work and family venues, you might find it unsettling when your teammates seem to demand the flexibility of working from home.

You might have successfully raised children or cared for elders in times when such terms were not in the popular lexicon, all the while demonstrating your dedication to work, sometimes even at the expense of your family!

In that case you may wonder, why can’t others do the same? How do you trust them to be committed and work as hard as you did?

Here are somethings you could do to align with the new culture –

  • Understand that with each generation, technological advances change the nature of work as well as family life. Just as you may now be accustomed to shopping or booking tickets online, using a website or a mobile app for self-servicing, rather than calling a help desk or standing in line to get service, work too can be performed more efficiently using such tools.
  • Having a direct conversation with your manager and teammates regarding your concerns and collectively laying down the principles that everyone can be measured against, can help establish a smoother work environment.
  • Those who demand hybrid work environments are also equally, if not more, responsible for proving their commitment – especially when they are physically unavailable during work hours because they are working from home.
  • A happier and balanced teammate is far more productive and a better partner, than one who is constantly stressed and takes frequent leave to go attend to personal issues.

Don’t you not wish you had the same opportunities in your times of need?

Leading a hybrid workforce – a guide for managers

Open communication is key for any manager to lead a successful team, especially when it comes to work ethics.

With changing times and perhaps a changing demographic within the team, frequent assessment of the needs of the team members is important to ensure that underlying tensions and resentments are not allowed to fester.

  • Clearly document and share the roles, responsibilities and work location status of members of your team when you are allowing working from home.
  • Set up an environment of openness, so that team members feel free to voice their concerns to you.
  • Discourage personal name-calling and accusations of favouritism, as some members might be construed to receiving privileges of flex-work.
  • While you may not owe anyone explanations as long as you are within company rules, a brief and candid statement of expectations for the entire team might help.
  • Encourage collaborative work and shared responsibility between employees, across different ends of the spectrum; to provide opportunity for personal engagement and camaraderie.
  • Balance the workload and rotate challenging opportunities across the team.
  • Periodically evaluate the results of the hybrid work environment and be prepared to continue, enhance or detract flexibility as needed.

Adapting to the new normal – the Digital Age

In this new era of evolving needs and expectations, companies and employees must all embrace change and be ready to experiment and adapt.

Finding the right balance requires an open mind, honest conversations and a shared sense of responsibility across all stakeholders. The exact structure and framework for allowing working from home will vary from one business to another.

Please do leave your comments at the bottom and do share with others if you like this article.

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Meenu Sareen

A very comprehensive and well handled approach to this prevailing hot debate between the employers and the employees

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