The Distinct Dynamics of Working At Home Vs. Working From Home: A Deep Dive

The Distinct Dynamics of Working At Home Vs. Working From Home: A Deep Dive

The pandemic is back, and many colleagues have returned to working from home. I noticed that many leaders have also become anxious again. Today, on Monday (March 14th, 2022), several friends approached me over the past three days, sharing their anxieties. Let’s talk about them together:

  • “I really don’t know if my team members can work efficiently at home every day, and whether they can manage themselves independently.”
  • “Since we are now remote, I have actually thought more than once about hoping that each team member reports their daily work plan. However, I worry that everyone will complain about writing daily reports taking up their time. But, I really don’t know how each person allocates their work time every day.”
  • “Anyway, I hope that my company can hold off on home office until the last minute. Seeing everyone in the office every day still gives me peace of mind. Otherwise, I don’t know when employees start and end work, and remote attendance still feels unreliable.”
  • “I get headaches whenever we have remote meetings. Nowadays, young people, for some reason, don’t like turning on their cameras. Even in offline meetings, everyone remains silent, now that we’re online, I have no idea when each person participates in meetings.”
  • “I’m not sure which items should be dealt with online versus offline, which items should be communicated through messages, and which items should be discussed in meetings. I feel that our team doesn’t have any rules for these matters. To be honest, I myself don’t have a particular standard.”

01-The Essence of Mobile Office:A New Possibility

As sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote in his classic book “The Power Elite,” the fate of modern humans depends not only on the family they were born into and the family they enter after marriage, but increasingly on the company they work for. The best years of life and the fastest periods of development are spent within the company.”

There is no doubt that mobile internet and AI technology have provided us with more opportunities to work without being restricted by location, allowing people to work online with teams and clients from anywhere at any time.

In the past few days, I have seen various types of information being shared on social media by my friends, broadly speaking, they are divided into two categories:

Physical space, such as working on the couch, working while eating, working in a coffee shop, etc.

Software tools, such as DingTalk or Zoom, Teambition or Lark.

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However, before discussing the form and technology of remote work, I would like to invite everyone to take some time to explore the underlying reasons behind the emergence of this type of work, and how it will fundamentally change our perception of work.

The key to the mobile, free, and distributed work ,

model is not the physical space,

but rather the cognitive awareness and the ability to truly collaborate.

Attention, as long as you are a worker,

you will be in the midst of this tremendous change in the coming years and decades!

02-The other end of self-management: Continuous release of control

Dubbed as the “father of modern management,” Frederick Winslow Taylor had a significant influence on the structure and culture of modern offices. His belief was that “workers are naturally inclined to avoid work, and therefore, they must be strictly supervised.” In fact, this is one of the core purposes of the office, and people create offices based on this idea. This is where we work.

As our work becomes increasingly mobile, this has also become a defining feature of today’s workplace: fluidity.

I would prefer to think of this as a form of “freedom,” where employees have the autonomy to decide their own work styles and workspaces.

In this increasingly mobile and free work environment, if we continue to rely on a mindset of control and supervision to manage such a complex work network, enterprises will inevitably fall into a vicious cycle of higher management costs and lower management efficiency.

On the other hand, people now have more autonomy, which can inspire their work enthusiasm (see the three principles of talent motivation in the book “Drive”: mission-driven, self-management, and mastery-oriented), and enterprises can also take advantage of this opportunity to significantly reduce their management and bureaucratic implicit costs.

Based on this, if a manager’s cognition and mindset is to use online office software to continue fulfilling their supervisory duties, I can only say that the belief system of monitoring employees like an eagle is not only completely outdated and increasingly ineffective but also should not be advocated for in mobile offices. Lastly, no one wants to be “nailed,” and office software should not become “that eagle’s telescope.(This is the fundamental reason driving me to write this article.)

At the same time, this work revolution will unprecedentedly weed out those “big babies”. In fact, no matter where we work, if we can’t manage ourselves, have no passion for work, can’t deliver results on time, and our colleagues can never find us, then mobile office may soon screen out these people faster and discard them, or we can use to get results from every meeting, taking action on time to help us on the team work.

03-Leader:The Three Steps of Remote Management

As a leader managing remote teams, there are three steps you can take to improve productivity and keep everyone aligned:

  • Daily task tracking (monitoring actions)
  • Weekly milestone check-ins (prioritizing goals)
  • Monthly goal reviews (evaluating business and team performance)

I’ve noticed that many team management cycles are based on a “weekly” or “quarterly” basis, such as reviewing projects weekly or assessing goals quarterly. In a remote collaboration scenario, I believe this frequency needs to be increased. For any remote team, we recommend having a “daily meeting”, where the team spends 15 minutes each morning sharing their work status of the previous day, what they completed yesterday, and what they plan on accomplishing today. For example Huddles Daily Stand-Up Meeting template include every step to complete this meeting.

Starting the day this way as a team is crucial, not only to help leaders plan team work on a daily basis, but also as a process of empowering each other daily. At the beginning of each week, the leader should lay out the key goals, milestones, and most important tasks for the week, then give team members enough space to plan their own daily tasks and rhythms.

However, in such a turbulent and uncertain age, I still believe that goal management is not a strategy for managing static results, but rather a “processing” management process. This process is demonstrated by our monthly review of whether the goals of the previous month were achieved, what went well or not, and based on the current situation (certain and uncertain), what goals we need to set for the next month.

04-Sufficient Trust+Clear Boundaries

In my opinion, remote collaboration requires a culture of trust. This trust is not blind, but based on commitment and the elimination of bad faith.

I often see that the anxiety of most leaders comes from a lack of trust, the lack of trust employees feel when they are not working under their watchful eyes. These leaders’ relationship with their team is fragile, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not, when viewed from an external perspective.

Instead, we can see this remote work as a practice field. So how do we build trust? To be honest, this is not a new topic. Building trust has been emphasized in leadership courses and cultural building projects for quite some time.

In a remote setting, I have three things to share with you:

  • Transparent and Open: Proactively and absolutely openly share everything. Share progress and evolution of work, share new and acquired information, share risks and opportunities in advancing business ideas.
  • Always Available by Phone: Make a call whenever communication becomes unclear. As soon as we find that text-based chats via instant messaging apps are insufficient, we should call for a video conference or phone call immediately.
  • Continually check each other’s expectations and commitments: make it happen!

“The Accountability Ladder” is a simple and useful tool that categorizes a team member’s level of accountability in their role into eight levels:

  • Make it happen
  • Find solutions
  • Own it
  • Acknowledge reality
  • Wait & hope
  • Excuses(I can’t)
  • Blame others
  • I didn’t know

I suggest that remote teams should have a weekly review where each team member’s status is discussed. This allows colleagues to receive comprehensive feedback on each other’s work from their peers and leaders. It also triggers many conversations, clarifies assumptions, shares internal thoughts, and gradually aligns expectations, building trust.

05-From the first day of our company’s creation:We were determined not to establish any offices.

From the first day of starting my own business, I decided not to establish any fixed office location. My colleagues have worked in Barcelona and Tokyo. for several months, moved to the suburbs of Berlin, or even returned to their hometowns from big cities like Netherlands and Berlin, but this has not hindered our daily work collaboration. Of course, you may ask, people still need to meet offline. Yes! We also have our own agreed-upon offline meeting methods and rules, which I will share with you all later.

Today, as I write this article, I am also thinking about what makes me so optimistic about remote work. I thought about it and realized that the most important points are:

  • Believing and longing for self-organization. I have always felt that every worker in the workplace has a small universe waiting to be activated. On the other hand, there are a bunch of tool people who are living under “pie” and “996”. I think that only when people have the right to choose their own work status, methods, and content, can they truly think about the meaning and value of work, activate their own desire and energy, and achieve outstanding work to the exponential level. I hope that every one of us in the workplace can really live for ourselves, rather than always worrying about how the boss sees us or how to complete the KPI by every action.
  • Treasuring time.I hope that my team members can use the two or three hours of commuting time every day to accompany their families, learn fitness, or even just sleep in, if they want to. My team has a big brother who wakes up at 5 am to write code, and a designer who only gets inspired to tinker with Figma at midnight. Each person has their own rhythm of life, which is perfectly fine. Even if you don’t want to work today just because you don’t feel like it, we can easily understand you. It may sound unreliable, but I think it’s good because, as previously mentioned, freedom comes with responsibility. As long as you can complete the weekly work goals and daily work tasks that you have committed to, you can control your own time. (Of course, planning work tasks based on work intensity, challenges, and how to allocate team public time every day and every week is another topic. I plan to share it with everyone in the future.)

Over a century ago, when people first left the fields and entered textile factories, it is unlikely that they could have imagined that we would spend our youth toiling away at a small desk with a computer screen, located in a high-rise building made of steel and concrete more than a hundred years later. If we could enjoy a future that’s different, what kind of work environment would you like to experience the most?

Author: Jameson Thompson

Remote meeting expert with over 10 years of experience in virtual collaboration and communication. Specializing in helping companies optimize their remote work and virtual collaboration strategies.

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