How to rethink where you work

We have all been part of a great experiment over the past few years. Forced to work from home due to the pandemic, many people who might have resisted in the past have opened their eyes to the potential of remote working. One only has to look at the impressive GDP growth we’ve seen over the past year to recognize that the economy has continued to grow even with so many people working remotely.

There is ample evidence that remote work can provide many workers. This has caused tension in organizations that don’t know how much to lean on or move away from the whole remote work trend.

The error is that this conversation is presented as a binary choice: for or against.

But the more important question might be: what are the implications of this trend for leaders and managers about where we work in the future? The answer should come down to a better understanding of the types of work that need to be done and where best to do it.

In other words, let the work itself dictate where it should be done.

Targeted projects

Whenever someone needs to do something that requires focus – where you lower your head and immerse yourself while minimizing interruptions for four to five hours – the office might not be the best place to do this kind of work. Tackle this type of work in a home office could be ideal – a place where you can increase your productivity many times over.

I can talk about it personally. Since moving into my home office, I can’t even calculate how much productivity on focused projects — like blogging — has skyrocketed.

Teamwork

Another essential type of work that many of us engage in requires collaboration with other people. It can be brainstorming new ideas, selling, or planning conversations – anything that relies on interpersonal reactions. This kind of work is best done in person at the office. Zoom does not count. Somewhere north of it all, communication is non-verbal, and we can’t pick it up on Zoom too. The natural energy behind this type of work is triggered by in-person problem solving and planning.

For some people, the ideal solution might be to divide their day or week, half of which is devoted to focused work at home, followed by another half to collaborative tasks in the office.

Information sharing

A third type of work common to many organizations is information sharing, such as update meetings. These are separate from brainstorming and ideation meetings. Their sole purpose is to communicate information quickly and efficiently.

In the past, this was an area that might have required everyone to meet in the conference room or break for 30 minutes to an hour – or more if the meeting turned into a chat.

These meetings are now prime candidates for moving to Zoom or other video formats. They’ll give everyone a little taste of human interaction while minimizing the risk of interrupting an in-person meeting.

race horses

As anyone who has ever bet on a horse race in their life knows, it often pays to pick the horse that performs best given the current track conditions. You may want a very different horse for a grass steeplechase than one that is going to run a mile in mud. As the British say, “horses for the courts”.

Likewise, when deciding when and where remote work is appropriate in your organization, consider the nature of the work and the specific tasks that need to be performed.

Let the answer to this question guide you in deciding where and when your employees work.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Maria D. Ervin