The Last Thing Millennials Need is Work From Home

There is a reason why offices exist

Before the pandemic became a buzzword, our offices were not only a place to slog, they were also a source of pride. Employees felt regal as soon as they stepped inside their cathedrals of innovation. Clicking selfies of the various drool-worthy corners in the office and gloating about them on social media gave them the much-needed dopamine shots.

It’s not surprising that 78% of millennials consider workplace quality as a criterion before choosing an employer. Or 69% of them will give up other perks to work in a well-designed place.

Contemporary workplace designs increase employee productivity without freaking them out with the workload. The decor and open spaces act as a balm on overworked minds.

But the pandemic sheared all the fluff off our work-life, reducing it to the bare bones.

Working from home has become more about “work” than about “work-life”. It’s more about meeting deadlines, closing deals, attending grumpy customers, and less about hitting the gym after work, chilling out in the lobby, or hanging out in the cafeteria.

At your home, you might have set up the desk away from the family din. You might have even figured out the Feng Shui to help you stay focused and calm during the never-ending working hours.

But what you still miss out on are the impromptu water cooler talks. Daily chit chats in the cafeteria. The intense round table discussions with your team about how to bring in new clients. Or the chance meetings with the employees of different departments.

That might look trivial at first, but is an important ingredient in creating a culture of innovation. As explained by Peter Crush in an article,

Every day employees at Google’s 8th Avenue HQ are being subtly manipulated by workplace design. Permanent desks don’t exist and its lifts are seemingly slower, both of which force staff to move around more. It’s all in the name of a workplace environment ethos around so-called “orchestrated chaos”, encouraging what it calls “casual collisions” or interactions that provoke unexpected conversations and new ideas. It just can’t happen when staff stay put.

These creative forces can’t be bottled up and carried to our homes. Creating such a culture needs years of nurturing in a controlled environment.

So in short, we left behind the good stuff that made our work a walk in the park, while the unpleasant stuff has accompanied us to our homes. Is it a sustainable arrangement? Only time will tell.

When I got to know that I’ll be working from home for the near future, I fantasized about activities that would fit the new time slots. I’ll become more productive, I reckoned. I’ll read more books, write more blog posts, play more table tennis, relax more. When Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the pandemic, why can’t I write my masterpiece?

The work just kept on coming

For the first few days, everything worked out as planned. But as the days whizzed by, work started piling up. And soon it intruded not only every nook and cranny of my mind but also my personal space. The work just kept on coming.

Moreover, it’s one thing when your boss orders you to accommodate another assignment in person. But over a chat, it looks discriminatory. It feels as if the entire team is conspiring to bury you under a mountain of work. Your manager sounds bossy, and your teammates ruder.

As explained by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier in their book “REMOTE: Office not required,”

When the bulk of your communication happens via email and the like, it doesn’t take much for bad blood to develop unless everyone is making their best effort to the contrary. Small misunderstandings that could have been nipped in the bud with the wink of an eye or a certain tone of voice can quickly snowball into drama.

The illusion of extra time soon evaporated into thin air. And it left me worse off. The guilt trip of not using the apparent extra time to my advantage was mind-numbing. Weekdays fused to form one enormous block of time where I was only worrying about work. And over the weekends, instead of relaxing, I was in a hurry to finish as many personal goals as possible. Running on fumes became the norm.

This experience reminded me of a brilliant article that I read last year. The author illustrates how we are optimizing ourselves to death, even when we have far more leisure time .

Working from home has sped up the process of burnout. If FOMO is jolting millennials into action. Fear of not being productive enough is propelling them to the brink of a breakdown.

Three words: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Companies might not be able to reproduce the culture of casual collisions in our personal lives, or they can’t stop us from working our asses off. But what they can do is to facilitate effective communication within the organization.

A culture of effective communication has always been the cornerstone of an innovative and nimble organization. According to one study, companies that communicate effectively gave 47% higher returns to their shareholders over five years.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” — George Bernard Shaw

But in the work from home era, effective communication is the edifice on which the concept of an organization rests.

Applications such as Zoom, Hangouts, Webex, Slack, Skype, Trello are already helping organizations making a smooth cultural shift. Using technology, however, is only the first half of facilitating communication. And the easiest one. Bringing clarity and empathy in the chain of command is the second half and the most challenging one.

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Our personal and professional lives have merged, making it difficult to manage the work-life balance. We might wilt under the work pressure. But on the other hand, we are privileged to still have a source of income. Juggling professional and personal life is one thing, but running errands to find work is a different ball game.

So from the employee’s perspective, acknowledging this privilege will go a long way in helping us navigate the treacherous waters of work from home life.

The focus on work from home has also opened the doors for millennials to work from anywhere. Combine Remote work with a remote location and you have a mouth-watering proposition at your hand.

Taking a stroll on the side of an artificial pond might help reduce stress, but working inside a cozy cabin with the panoramic view of the misty mountains is mind-blowing. No amount of workplace design can match the beauty of nature.

The bottom line

If the internet empowered individuals and paved the way for the gig economy, the pandemic has forced people to embrace it. The dynamics of the job market are rapidly changing in a post-pandemic era.

If companies ignore the undercurrents, they will lose their most important customers: the employees. If employees don’t respect their work-life balance, they will lose their sanity.

The transition might look daunting at first. But if we wipe off the fog of uncertainty from our lenses, we will see the glinting opportunities in front of us. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

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