“If we were to decide, working from home (WFH) will become the standard” is the final conclusion of my second interview with a young working couple, both already working from home for two months. They live together for over a year now and don't have children. In the first interview taken on their fourth week of WFH their final conclusion was that “WFH is not the problem, staying inside is our main problem!”
They both work for a different company. He works in assurance services and she in credit collection. They are experiencing a totally different approach in the way their company is dealing with WFH from the very beginning.
“I am getting no information about what will be the next step”, he says. “Yes, we are informed about how they are managing the business situation and which resources they allocate for it. And we had some changes in the software and procedures. We were also informed that somebody from the US will join us for Business Re-design purposes. But nothing is communicated about scenarios and conditions regarding whether to continue WFH, to start working from the office, or to work from the client for most of the time. I mean, if for instance all of us are expected to work from the office in a situation when most of our clients don’t allow us to work onsite yet, we have a huge problem because we don’t even have enough desks to accommodate it” he says with a slightly cynical tone.
“Well, fortunately I am in a better situation”, she proceeds. “We get updates every day about what is happening in the company. How they re-arranged the office, the work-café and even the bathroom. Where and how they changed the workplaces and where they installed plastic protection screens. I even got pictures of how everything will look like when we will work from the office again. We will get 10 re-usable masks per employee and our temperature will be measured when entering the office. And they also told us that by the end of the year we will work max 80% of our time at the office, which means a minimum of 20% WFH ”.
On my question how much they would like to start working from the office or at the client’s location again, he answers that before the virus outbreak most of the time he worked at the client because this is the company policy. He has his doubts about the necessity to do so, even more now that his WFH experience shows that he is managing very well with his clients. “In the beginning it felt a bit chaotic, but now things really settled in”, he comments. “I got used to it and my clients did too!” After pausing for a few seconds he adds: “of course, when you work at the client he really sees you working, and I may spot better the opportunities for cross-selling, but doing cross-selling online can be learned in my opinion”.
“I really would like to start working from the office, partly I mean” she tunes in. “We have a nice office with all the necessary equipment and facilities and we have very good chairs. Besides that, I miss the interaction with my new colleagues as I hardly had the chance to make acquaintance with them. You know I got hired just before the lockdown was announced. And in my job I don’t go to clients, so I don’t have that problem.”
During this second interview with this young couple I have realized, more than in the first interview, how different their professional situation is. Maybe ‘how different’ is not even the right expression. ‘How opposite’ would be more appropriate to label the difference. I continue our talk with addressing how their private life evolved since our first interview. “Not too much”, he responds. “All settled in very naturally. We developed new routines which I like better than before the crisis. I sleep better, we have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. We have more breaks, watch television and play games together. And we talk more with each other about various topics”.
She nods in a confirming way while he talks. “I like to have things planned and I mostly make the suggestions for new routines. Fortunately, he mostly agrees”, she adds with a cheeky smile. It is the very moment when I realize that no matter how different their professional situation is, as a couple they are a real unity. “And we only went for shoppings twice up to now. Taking all the necessary precautions. We wore masks and gloves and we used disinfecting liquids”, she proceeds.
I remind them of their remark during the first interview about getting to know each other’s work better and how each of them does their job. “This is still the case. For example, I helped her regarding some financial issues in her job, and I even trained her” he proudly proceeds. “I don’t like that” she comments, causing him to suddenly frown his eye-brows. “Eh…, I mean I don’t like financial issues. That is why he is a big help for me” correcting the first slight misunderstanding between them during the interview.
I turn back to the topic of WFH by asking them how they see their future regarding WFH. “If we were to decide, WFH will become the standard” they both agree. Then I ask them to give one reason each turn to summarize why they have that distinct preference:
She: “we have more time to be with each other”
He: “it saves me travel time, at least two and a half hour a day”
She: “Nobody is pushing me to call clients, and I can handle it more by email”
He: “I don’t have to spend part of my weekend washing and ironing clothes for my work”
She: “I can spend more time on trainings online to develop in my new job”
He: “I can eat garlic at lunch”
She: “I take more moments to drink water”
He: “I save a lot of money by eating food from home”
She: “I am more relaxed without constant stress to smile and interact”
He: “I eat less snacks at lunch”
She: “Less witnesses and gossips because of people having serious disagreements at the office”
He: “I am more relaxed because I have more freedom to decide what I do at which moment”
“When listening to you both in our first interview and this one I notice three key-words, which are ‘natural’ ‘together’ and ‘relaxed’, I proceed. “May I conclude by saying that WHF was a natural process for both of you up to now, that you enjoy being together more, and that for various reasons it makes you feel more relaxed?” Both respond with a very decisive “YES”.
“Your mutual conclusion during our first interview was that WFH is not the issue but staying is your main problem”, I continue. “Now that the regulations have become less strict, you have more freedom to go outside. How is that for you?” There is a moment of silence and they look at each other. He breaks the silence by explaining “on the one hand I want to go out, but on the other hand I am not so enthusiastic about the idea yet. For example, this weekend we did not go out because we expected a boost of people going outside and not respecting the rules that still exist” he says while increasing his mostly very calm voice tone.
“I am not so scared”, she responds. “I can take care of myself and I just have to stay away from people who are not protected. I like the nature and the fresh air more than being among many people in the city”.
As a closing topic I introduce the question: “If according to your preference WFH really becomes the standard, what challenges do you see in spite of your preference?” Both agree that interaction between people will be an issue. Online interaction cannot fully replace face-to-face interaction. Maybe it will be less a problem with closest family and friends, but how do you build new relationships or how do you canvas new clients?
Their comment triggers the trainer and coach in me and I share with them my opinion about human interaction. I tell them that I fully understand their concern. Human interaction is not only an exchange of words and sentences expressing thoughts and feelings, it is also an exchange of energy. And any screen between us will surely change the intensity of that energy. The positive energy we will feel after a good online talk will never replace the energy we feel after a real good face-to-face talk.
They have a short glance at each other and almost simultaneously nod as a sign of sharing my opinion. We concluded that it was anyhow a good talk after all….