Diary of a (former) confined employee: a new vision of working from home

Protime-working from home

At the end of March when confinement was just beginning, I shared my first impressions on working from home. Partly based on ideas and advice I received, that first assessment was an opportunity to tackle some of the clichés which are anchored in our collective imagination. At least at that moment in time. In the meantime, the vision that we have of this new way of working seems to be very different. I am making this observation not only as the spokesperson for Protime but also as an employee who has lived her life in this situation for more than two months.

Working from home today is not the same as it used to be.

Working from home: undeniable benefits but also a few drawbacks

Let's be honest. Before the confinement, our vision of working from home was one of employees enjoying the opportunity to do so from time to time. And there was nothing wrong with that idea (and it was quite normal) because we had no point of comparison. However, today, after more than two months of working from home continuously (and with the prospect of a few more weeks in companies that continue to facilitate this solution), it's time to make some new observations.

As an employee and spokesperson for Protime, my conclusion is that a new vision of working from home is gaining momentum. Currently and in hindsight I can see new benefits and disadvantages arising from this situation.

The benefits of working from home

  • A decrease in transport expenses for the company since our cars are not on the road. This also has a positive impact on the environment.
  • The opportunity to concentrate on the tasks assigned to us since we are alone in front of our computers.
  • A better organisation of our private and professional lives because we are able to manage our own working and break times.
  • A decrease in rental costs in the long term because office space can be reduced knowing that we will not all be present at the same time.
  • Recruitment benefit due to more flexibility and a wider search scope (a candidate living at a distance from the office is no longer an obstacle if he or she accepts to work from home with video-conferencing and visits to the office from time to time).

The disadvantages of working from home

  • Increased mental workload: even if managers do their best to coach employees, they are left more to their own devices and this may result in employees feeling they are not doing enough.
  • Non-stop work: for most of us, and this includes myself, our computer is in the kitchen or the dining room and this makes it difficult to disconnect from work (you can't stop yourself checking your mailbox when you are near the computer).
  • Your relationship with the company is put to the test: working from home constantly requires checking that the company's vision is shared, that information is distributed and that the corporate culture is respected at all times, even when working remotely. This is a long-term commitment which is necessary to avoid isolation.
  • Too much commitment: there is a risk that employees become too engaged and that they prefer work and neglect their private life. This means that corporate values are shifting.

Protime: evolve and adapt to this new vision of working from home

These drawbacks are a reality we have to live with. However, as spokesperson for Protime, I am convinced that the risks can be reduced to a minimum. Time management solutions are essential in this respect. Today more than ever, time management is more about monitoring, not controlling. The distinction is subtle but it is also important. Moreover, time plays a central and strategic role in another world outside our professional life and which is more or less related to the company: sports.  It's no coincidence that smart watches have become very popular recently: count your steps, check your heart rate or record your speed; all of these features help you manage your time to do sports safely and progressively.

During the confinement period, I was able to observe how solutions such as Protime can provide real support for management. And as deconfinement is gradually being rolled out, I can see that this is still the case. Because Protime is adapting and evolving.

A tool to manage face-to-face working and working from home

I believe that in the short term, the challenge is to be able to manage who comes to the office and who works from home. This is why many organisations use our solutions to let employees make a request to come to the office for face-to-face working. It is an opportunity to better manage teams but also to ensure employee health by avoiding the presence of too many people in offices and by specifying precisely who comes to the office and when (which can be useful if an employee falls ill and colleagues who have had contact with this person need to be warned).

Tools which are also useful in the long term

If working from home becomes the new normal, it is essential that we look ahead and think about tools for the long term:

  • Improve how personalised schedules are managed: this can be optimised by providing options to indicate when you start, take a break, resume work. The objective is not to check on but to protect employees by verifying that they are not working too many extra hours or that they don't work too late on a regular basis. For the manager, it's an opportunity to make sure that everything is going well in his team, that people are not overworked and on the verge of burning out.
  • Maintain social contacts: time management tools are also useful for bringing teams together, for example for planning face-to-face meeting depending on employee availability. These tools are ideal for ensuring that the balance between face-to-face work and working from home is right and employees do not become isolated.
  • Sustain the corporate culture: we must keep it alive so it can grow stronger. And everyone needs to be aware of the company's mission and vision to do this. But that's not all! To ensure that all employees find their space (even when working remotely) and are committed to the company, it is important to know and be proud of "why we work every day". At Protime we introduced a short exercise for this purpose which is very straightforward: each team thought about its mission and vision in relation to those of the company. The objective was to discover our added value for the company and this reinforces our commitment. We all contribute to the company's mission, from the finance department to IT and the sales department.

My new vision as a mom working from home

As an employee I have also noticed a real mentality shift towards working from home. When I started this new way of working last March, many people I knew were prejudiced: "Working from home is like being on holiday," "You can take a rest," and so on. So now it's a nice surprise to see that the narrative has changed.  Working from home full-time as we have been doing is not easy, especially with children. You must be able to combine your private and professional lives which can be complicated when everything is mixed up. Today, people understand that.

And companies do too! The revolution has started from within the companies. I was allowed to work from home before the confinement. But my character and need for social contacts made me settle for one day a month. Today, my own narrative has also changed. The Covid-19 crisis has opened my eyes to what's essential: my family.

As the philosopher Julia de Funès put it so well, working from home has changed our vision of the professional world: our work has now regained its rightful place in our lives, at the heart of our home. Before, our work would dominate and become the very purpose of life. Working from home liberates us so we can concentrate on what really matters: the result. It doesn't matter how much time we need and how we achieve this result, as long as we know what is expected of us. And it's all the more rewarding for the employee and productive for the company if these targets are achieved while ensuring everyone's well-being. At the end of the day, isn't promoting working from home to be with your family a wonderful message?

Sophie Henrion