Working from home is sexy. After all, you finally feel untethered from the workplace.
You can move to a coffeeshop, bask in the sun, and do things at your own schedule.
And in Singapore, when you no longer have to squeeze in the long commutes to work on the MRT, smell people’s musky body odour on the buses, you heave a sigh of relief.
Ah, working from home.
It just seems like a godsend.
But does that mean you should work from home, just because you can?
As an ardent work from home enthusiast
In October 2021, I stopped my full-time job and had no more office to go to.
Searching for a job at home, whilst doing other bits of freelance work such as writing, and facilitating, was tough.
I started growing fat. I would eat lunch at 10am, and then follow it up with dinner at 3pm.
When I wanted to procrastinate on writing, I would simply walk around and search for snacks at home.
Since there was no longer a need to turn up at the office by a certain set time, I started exercising in the morning till about 930am, took a bath, before I finally sat down at about 1030am to ‘work’.
It wasn’t easy.
For 7 months, I thought this was the way to go. After all, I had staunchly argued about how over COVID, I had found out how working from home suddenly reduced the amount of time I spent on work from 8 to 2 hours. It seemed to suggest that my productivity had skyrocketed.
But it wasn’t.
It was simply that the usual time spent socialising at work, was now gone.
And I guess this might be you too.
Working from home, you might have little structure to your day.
You might start your work day cleaning up your emails, having IM (instant messaging) ping-pongs with your colleagues, before going back to something you were writing.
Hands down, you have greater productivity in the office
I used to think that the office was a drain on productivity.
After all, it didn’t seem great when you were constantly interrupted from deep work sessions.
You might have been flowing, before you suddenly got a tap on the shoulder, and your boss interrupting you with a question.
But here, I learnt two things.
Signalling to people that you’re having a deep work session helps
Firstly, that you can signal to people that you’re having a deep work session by putting on your headphones (even without any music).
This shows people that you hope that you won’t be disturbed.
Turning up forces you to put in a shift
But the other thing I also learnt was that the office gave greater structure to your day.
Whether you liked it or not, you had to turn up, and put in a shift. That, in and of itself, already increased your productivity.
It’s like how you put on your jogging shoes to run, even though you don’t feel like it.
Of course, it doesn’t negate from the fact that you have to personally know what is your biggest driver of value.
In the absence of that, you might turn to simpler things that require less processing, such as:
- Clearing emails
- Answering your instant messages on WhatsApp or Slack, or Teams
- Doing little bits of work here and there.
Most importantly, working from the office brings you into an environment where you have to create.
With your boss looking over your shoulder, and with your colleagues around you, you have to produce something.
And this art of shipping, whether or not you enjoy it, is described by Seth Godin in his book ‘The Practice’, where he talks about how you don’t ship because it’s good.
You ship because it’s done.
As Sheryl Sandberg, the former Chief Operating Officer of Facebook once said,
Done is better than perfect.
And here, shipping something is definitely worth it.
Working from the office enforces discipline
Mop around long enough in clothes that are just PJs, and you will find out why there’s a psychological improvement in performance that comes from just dressing up for work.
There are people who talk about why you work better when you’re comfortable, rather than being ‘dolled up for work’.
When you’ve invested in dolling up, making the effort to be there at work, you will begin to see a corresponding uptick in performance.
Not just for showing up. But because internally your mind switches states. From home to work.
Compare this to home, where around you is the bed, snacks, and the kitchen, and where various members of your family might be doing different things.
You might even be distracted by other matters like your baby.
Soon, you start to see how the enforced boundary between work and home, can help.
Working from home might stop you from having deeper relationships with your colleagues
A friend recently spoke about the big transition between school and working from home.
In the past, you could go to a colleague’s table and ask for something.
Now you have to phrase your request nicely over email.
You can’t even ask a colleague how their weekend was.
Deeper relationships with your colleagues is not just about trading office gossip. But it’s about getting your colleagues to speak up for you in the office.
In the pre-pandemic era, when much of the relationship was fostered over the long lunches in Singapore, much of that has been lost with the work from home culture today.
You might miss out on valuable opportunities to network
In the office, you have many opportunities to interact with figures of influence, which might give you chances to introduce yourself and the work.
Working in the office, I had the chance to regularly speak with directors and assistant directors, learn about their perspectives on difficult issues, and also impress them with my grasp of the issues on hand.
Sometimes, there’s a reason why people came together
Ultimately, there’s a reason why work evolved to be such a social thing. Because somehow along the way, humans found out that beyond just having social groups in families, there was also a deeper collaborative genius that came from being together with others.
There’s always an example of Apple’s Industrial Design Lab that inspires me.
When you hear Sir Jony Ive, the former Chief Design Officer talk about the Industrial Design Lab that he created, you would hear about how designers came together to mock up designs.
To put together fragile fragments of ideas.
To sketch out ideas.
And you realise that the human spirit is sometimes, many times, about coming together, physically to create something better, over and above it being convenient.
Because work, at least for us, isn’t just about putting in the hours. It’s about creating something better out of that.