For the past three months, virtually everyone in the technology world has been working from home. It’s a new world of flexible working.

Some people have loved it. Some have loathed it. Most I guess have been somewhere in between – I’ve worked from home for years but I can’t say I’ve much enjoy literally never going out!

So as offices start to reopen and companies start to think about getting back to some sort of normality, what are the pros and cons of a return to the office?

A couple of provisos first.

  1. What we’ve experienced in lockdown isn’t working from home. Working from home isn’t trying to look after toddlers whilst working full time, and it isn’t being confined to the house and therefore your workplace 24/7. It’s been bizarre. And hopefully (barring a second wave) it’s over. So whatever’s next, it won’t look like that
  2. Of course everyone is different. I’ve spoken to people who are absolutely committed to only working 100% remotely from now on, like they’ve seen the light. And I’ve spoken to others who are desperate to get back to the office and see other people. There’s not a single right answer.

For most people it’s going to look like some variation on flexible working. There’s a video on the site (here) with some suggestions as to how you might negotiate that with your company, but what are the advantages and disadvantages of different arrangements?

Working from home

Advantage: No commute. You get a couple of hours a day back – to spend on work or family or in the pub (after work, not for breakfast)

Disadvantage: No decompression zone. You walk out of your work and straight into family life. So it can be hard to adjust. You might need to go for a walk round the block to clear your head. In lockdown we’ve taken to sitting down and watching a film at 5.30 on a Friday to help us all shift gear into the weekend.

Advantage: Work fits in around your life. If you want to go to a school assembly or hang the washing out (to give just a couple of rock and roll examples), you can.

Disadvantage: You lose a lot of the social aspects of work. It can be very solitary. When things are tough, it’s just you. There’s no 5 minute chat in the kitchen to air a problem

Working from the office

Advantage: Everything you need is on hand. The company provides desk, computer, kit, colleagues, materials and mental space. So show up and work – there’s no hunting for the stapler.

Disadvantage: More often than not the convenience of your office for working is matched by the inconvenience of it for everything else. You can’t make a sandwich at lunchtime unless you planned it ahead. You can’t nip out to meet a friend for lunch (or at least only friends that work nearby)

Advantage: Visibility. You’re there, you’re working, you have access to management and your contribution is visible and welcome. But at home the danger is that you become out of sight and out of mind – companies should be working to counteract this but it’s a real danger. Not if you’re there in person.

Disadvantage: Presenteeism. That culture of needing to be there to prove you’re working can be debilitating and take the focus off the output of your time and push it onto the inputs. That can tempt companies to micromanage. Working from home at least occasionally requires a more results focussed management style.

There are others of course but this is to get you thinking. What style of flexible working suits you best? Whatever it is, the time is absolutely right to talk to your company about it and embark on a new, flexible future.

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