VOL.1 _ How do we work in social isolation?
Cache Atelier conducted conversations with several specialists regarding the similarities and differences between working from home and the office.
The first conversation from the series #HomeVsOffice was with psychologist Yana Aleksieva, and took place in the summer of 2020. We approached the theme from the specific to the general – with people. For us at Cache Atelier, the employees and their community have always been the fundamental capital of a company and its true center, around which we create every corporate interior.
So, Yana, does working from home reflect equally on each individual? Are there “at risk” employees for which the home office event creates a negative attitude toward the work process, and, on the opposite side, those that get a constructive, positive effect?
Y: I think the question contains the answer. Employees are people with differing needs. Surely, these new times, this new “normal” or whatever we want to call it, and our attempt to work remotely affect us differently. I have observed people that rediscovered their professional side and feel much better this way. Some people are just more productive from home.
What are they like?
Y: I wouldn’t want to generalize. It depends on the occupation, to what degree someone requires structure, quiet. Naturally, it is closely related to the type of workplace, management, and the policies a company has. One example from my team: a woman that shared she now has the comfort of being able to walk her kids over, whether to their grandma’s or school. Having that comfort then enables her to calmly meet her work obligations. Without having to explain that she needs to take her son to summer school right at this moment.
Are the people that feel more comfortable working from home people with families?
Y: I’m not sure. I have the impression that it was precisely for people with young children that the lockdown and home office required the simultaneous role of parent and worker. Here, it is very important who values what role, and regards it as more interesting and significant. For myself, I could say that I have a strong sense of my role as a parent, and feeling guilty about not spending enough time with my child sometimes makes me feel bad. At the same time, I really love my job. So this creates a rupture. Sometimes, you can’t concentrate. If your child happens to be at school, you need to find the time to study together.
So it’s more like I’ve observed quite a few people that are single and have freelance jobs, or childless couples, who have felt better from having the flexibility to work from home.
Multitasking has become like a religion for big companies in the last few years. Do we get to take a break from it in our home office reality? Maybe working from home is easier for people that want to devote themselves to one task, without dividing their attention?
Y: People with professions that require focus and insight certainly feel more at ease in the comfort of their home. If their home is comfortable. But we also see that people who are accustomed to being surrounded by others really miss the live connection. We have seen that isolation will go beyond this moment and generally reshape the work flow, relationships, networks, and dynamics. This is again down to the individual – we know that there will always be people in a team needing constant contact and interchange of ideas with their peers, and others that need to concentrate, don’t even want music in the office, because it distracts them. This also raises the question of how effective is people’s self-discipline. We sometimes have difficulty planning the day well, setting short-term goals and achieving them, while we are liable to swinging the other way and work all day without a glass of water.
At the end, the home office also showed us that for the people that actually work, the workday has become considerably longer.
What are the different roles of the working individual, who are they at home and who are they at the office?
Y: When a person goes to work, they immerse themselves in a different ritual, in another psychological reality. When you’re home, you don’t have an ergonomic chair and desk and this turns into a problem over time. But for me, the psychological side is more intriguing – how do you really get into work mode at home?
М: We are social animals. In addition to philosophy, science proves that as well. When you’re in a group and you have shared interests with people, your body releases endorphins and you’re happy to belong.
Я: Yes, and the absence of such an environment is a very common reason for people to quit. It turns out that you don’t quit over pay, and even if someone offers more, you say `sorry, it’s not my kind of place`. Because you don’t have the human, emotional need to be there. We often hear phrases such as kindred souls – kindred thoughts. Even I feel that I lack the same level of creativity when I work from home. I miss that organic environment where you say `hey, I got an idea`! It’s one thing to share it with my significant other at home, and quite another to do it with my work peers.
And after all, these endless online meetings tried to replace live contact. Zoom and all the like, that we’re so fed up with, tried to replace being with the team. The platforms even started developing backgrounds to make you feel more comfortable.
М: Most clients share that they need to set up at least one in person meeting per week. And the work online when they cancel these meetings ends up being a lot more.
What boundaries do we need to set for ourselves in our two different realities?
Y: It is important to learn how to switch from one role to another. So we don’t additionally exhaust and stress ourselves out. As a psychologist, I consider that a return to the office would be exceptionally healthy. Especially if it’s like the one described by Mila.
We cannot equate leaving the office and going home with leaving the kitchen and entering your living room. The boundaries between work and personal life have blurred. Do people dupe themselves into thinking that they work less from home? And it’s not just about weekends and weekdays, it’s about nights, afternoons, mornings, evening.
Y: There is a definite tendency for self-deception. But for me the most important role here is of the person the sees the whole picture and makes sure no one is overworked or stressed.
Do you mean the manager?
Y: Yes, the person responsible for the team. The manager is the one setting boundaries and it’s up to him to say `I’ve noticed that you work a lot more because your time is fragmented, let’s figure out how to solve it`.
In the meantime, working from home does free up time – you don’t have to go back and forth to the office, and it eliminates the social pressures of wondering `what would my colleagues say`. We can be honest about this – most people go to work because they worry their colleagues will talk about it, or say `he went out for a smoke again`.
We continue our conversation with Yana Aleksieva and shift our focus to the physical aspects of the workplace. What questions we asked and the answers we may have found will be soon shared here and on social media. Stay Tuned, Folks!