Home > Uncategorized > Where do I work?

Where do I work?

Yesterday I read another article on the Work From Home debate that plagues many organisations. Like many of the debates, it was one sided. This specific article talked about managers needing to trust their employees that they will do the work expected of them and so on.

Work from home ad

Every time I read articles of this type I feel that they assume the worst of management and that forcing employees to come to work is a sign of a weak management culture.

I have a slightly more nuanced view which I want to share with a couple of analogies.

For sometime in my life, I lived in Singapore. A city with great public transport. Consequently (and the fact that I couldn’t afford a car) I relied on metros, buses and taxis. I was never really inconvenienced, except when it rained or after an event when the demand for taxis made it a challenge to get transportation. I went to restaurants, movies, plays, friends’ homes and so on. Great public transport has that benefit.

From Singapore, I went to Nairobi. A city with poor public transportation. So, I went back to getting my own car. Now I was able to drive to movies, plays, restaurants friends’ homes and so on. Same as Singapore. With a change. Freedom to explore unknown paths. It was not destination driving. If, on the way to a place, we spotted something we wanted to explore we could stop, or take a detour. Thus we saw much more of Nairobi and, looking back, we saw much less of Singapore than my friends who had cars.

While much of what we did in Singapore was achievable with public transportation, the freedom of exploration was lost.

Let me take another analogy. Education.

With the growth of home schooling and availability of education material on-line, there really is no need for anyone to go to an educational institution (unless there is a significant practical element to it). Yet, can you imagine growing up without going to school? Some of our best friends are from there. Some of our greatest memories are formed there.

And, of course, there is the learning component. We clarified doubts with class mates. We studied together at exam time and pushed each other to do better.

In the context of education, if you just want to study you can probably study at home alone. But if you want to learn from friends, make new friends, discover short cuts to remembering a formula and so on, you went to school.

I think it is the same with working.

No one doubts that an employee can do his/her work on himself/herself. The reason companies, and individuals, benefit from people coming into office is the opportunity to do more.

There is no replacement for the water cooler conversation. There is no replacement for the ad hoc getting up and walking across to talk to someone about a problem or an idea. There is no replacement to getting someone to review your work, as you are doing it. There is no substitute to bouncing ideas off your colleagues. There is no replacement for a conversation that sparks an idea.

Yes,  technology is making some progress, but we are still some distance away from that replacing the human interaction. Maybe never.

For sure there are times we need to work on one’s own. Maybe it is a big presentation that needs concentration., Perhaps the need to put together one’s thoughts that needs silence. For all those reasons one needs the mind space to do the job.

I have yet to hear of a start up birthed on a conference call by a bunch of people working from home.

My nuanced view is that everyone benefits from a collocated collaborative environment. This can be balanced by the flexibility to work in privacy when needed.

All modern corporations understand the need for this and provide the appropriate systems to enable work-life balance.



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 21, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I worked from home for almost a year. It is doable but it is incredibly isolating as well. As you said, it is much easier to walk over to a colleague and ask 10 questions than send 5 texts and 3 emails asking for clarification.

  2. Ravi Busi
    March 21, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    This is a good point of view Harish . . . I could connect well with your examples and agree with your views on why it is important.

  3. Ligi
    March 21, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Very well written Harish and I liked your examples. I also feel that there should not be an issue if we want to work from home once in a while (in case of some emergency).

  4. Milind Vartak
    March 25, 2017 at 6:12 am

    Nice article Harish. Have signed up to receive your pearls of worldly wisdom regularly!

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