Why Working From Home May Not Be The Best Thing To Do If You Want To Grow In Your Career
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
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In the pre-COVID-19 world, we’d wake up and rush to the office to be the first ones in, just so that the boss could see us as they walked into the office. Indeed, we’d also wait until the boss left to say “good night” to them- and then head home a few minutes later. Sometimes, you’d time your emails to be sent late at night or on the weekends, just to show everyone in the office that you were still working. You would perhaps also leave your jacket on your chair the night before, so people thought you were in early when they saw it the next morning. You’d even time your walk to the bathroom for a short exchange with the boss, or hope that he’d sit next to you during staff get-togethers. Out of sight was out of mind, and you did what you could to be seen or noticed. After all, back then, our physical presence at the office was synonymous with our strong work ethic, commitment, and passion.
Enter now the post-pandemic era, in which working from home has resulted in you having to download Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, or the umpteen other video chat platform every time anyone wanted to have a call. (By the way, since when does “a call” not include a cell phone?!?!) For safety precautions, everyone is now working from home, in their pajamas, on their couch, at the pool, maybe even still in bed. You are all appearing on video calls, but no one has their video turned on because they are “having a bad hair day,” or because you simply don’t want to show you where you really are– I once took a video call dressed in an apron cooking spaghetti in the kitchen. But this is considered to be all part of the new “business as usual,” with the days of office politics and water cooler gossips relegated to the past.
Or are they?
As lockdowns subside and populations get vaccinated, some form of normalcy will return to the world, perhaps not immediately, but eventually, in my opinion. However, there are many articles and talks about how the way we work has changed forever, and a part of me doesn’t feel like that is true. Yes, many of us now have an incredible amount of video calls scheduled, and there are many who still work from home, but that is only a short-term fix. Even now as I type these words on my computer at my desk in the office, I can see my colleagues -at least the ones who aren’t working from home- slowly drift towards the watercooler. Their managers now come in every morning, and the majority of the executives have followed suit. Even the juniors on the team have been recognized for their presence, and they are now involved in decisions they had never been a part of in the past.
As leaders walk by their teams, they ask, “You have a minute? I would like to pick your brain on something.” Everyone knows that a minute could easily turn into a much longer but incredibly interesting strategy discussion, with outcomes that will change the course of the business. It is a chance for someone to showcase their knowledge, their capabilities, and to take the lead in executing ideas. Under normal pre-pandemic circumstances, leaders would call in their team members or any relevant specialist to join the conversation. But with the current situation and half the office working from home, leaders will look around for who is immediately present to take part in ad hoc discussions. Simply put, the power of multiple brains in the same room is great for strategizing, sharing ideas, discussing various perspectives, and more.
A manager will look to anyone in the office, say even a new joiner, (who is in the office every day, because they either want to make a good impression, or they don’t have the courage to ask if they can work from home just yet) to take part in a discussion, simply because he would like another perspective. This individual, who could be an entry level data analyst, now has the full attention of senior executives in the business, and earn their trust and respect. All of the other data analysts working from home will not have that same opportunity, or they may never even know such a discussion took place until decisions are made as a result of it, or when the manager asks the “new guy” to take the lead in the next team briefing video call. That’s when everyone will realize the power of being present, and why the workplace evolved as it did in the past, and why workplace politics will always be a part of the equation– because it deals with relationships that are better forged in person than they ever will be online. Indeed, simply showing up to the office can give you an edge.
When people begin to realize that just showing up and being present can help them achieve better success, more and more will stop working from home, and the normalcy of office life will soon return. No one wants to be the “odd one out” working from home, while the entire team is back in the office. When the entire team is in the office, the need to video call one person to join in begins to fade, and excuses are made to avoid that process. Ad hoc discussions happen in person, and not online, and being in the right place at the right time and leveraging such opportunities are only possible when you are present. If you are only present online for specific scheduled video calls, then you’re never really in the right place and right time for random impromptu decisions, you’re never in the heart of any firefighting actions, in the hustle of startup excitement. You become an outsourced member of the team, someone you have a weekly update call with, someone who has a task to accomplish, and when you are done, well, there is radio silence. If you are an executive at the top of your game, then that may be what you are looking for. But if you are starting your career, it may be better to roll up your sleeves and head to the office.