Working from home is a quest for connection
Only a year ago, the focus was mainly on the desire, the motivation, the idea of working from home. This year we were forced to put it to the test in reality. There has already been much debate and research about the impact of working from home on productivity and health. Opinions are still divided. Is it a source of extra productivity, or is it primarily an inhibiting factor and a source of stress or even depression? I believe this discussion can be traced back to a central theme: connection.
In order to find a way of working that retains the benefits of working from home, so that everyone has the space now and in the future to be as productive as possible in their own way, above all we must find new ways to connect, through a combination of digital and physical means.
The challenge of connecting digitally and physically
In various respects, decentralised working has created a level playing field, which has actually made communication easier. I myself have noticed that communication with international colleagues is better. Since everyone works remotely in the same way, we all have the same way of working. We work together more efficiently internationally - as one global team.
On the other hand, it also causes a reduction in social interaction. The chat at the coffee machine, a joint lunch, a drink after work - all this disappears when you work from home. That's not just a loss because we crave social contact. It is precisely during those spontaneous moments that the spark of inspiration and motivation spreads more quickly. Various studies have shown that social interaction improves knowledge sharing and strengthens the innovative capacity of organisations.
When we work from home, we are more likely to communicate mainly in a functional way. Every meeting requires "premeditation". No more spontaneity, no humour, no more opportunities to make inspiring connections between arbitrary topics of conversation.
The road to successful working from home
The reality is that the business community still has to take a few major steps before working from home, or rather decentralised working, can become a sustainable success.
The basic requirement is a central, digital work environment. One place where everyone comes together. This can be a Teams environment or a complete workspace solution. Most importantly, it should not only bring teams together, but the entire organisation in a social way.
A dialogue must also be developed about how to allow employees to work independently, but then also gives them the space to share ideas. That combination of taking a step back and coming together to discuss can improve productivity and innovation.
For example, research shows that group brainstorming is less productive than individual brainstorming. When people work together, their ideas quickly converge and their thinking goes in one direction. But the further away you are from something, the more you think about it in an abstract way. This makes it easier to think divergently - in all kinds of different directions. And it is precisely when you work from home that you create distance between yourself and the problem that you have to solve.
Then when you come together to share ideas, there are better connecting techniques (for example, brainsketching, 6-3-5 and C-sketch, as shown in research) that lead to better, more creative and more innovative ideas.
Finally, the coffee corner, the drinks, the spontaneous encounters. Digital ways to connect are of course not a full replacement for physical encounters. But you can also develop new approaches to this. I have seen many new ways of connecting that facilitate spontaneity, by redesigning physical workspaces.
For example, you could set up local flexible work communities together with other organisations. This provides routine and ritual for employees who need it. Moreover, you bring professionals from very different industries together. Working becomes networking, and you are exposed to new ideas, opinions and working methods, which encourage creativity and innovation.
And the office could turn into a place for social gatherings. This is the next step in the evolution of the office that has actually been changing its role for decades. We went from the traditional individual offices via open-plan offices to an “activity-based workplace”. The office of the future should be a “socially-based workplace”.
By changing physical workspaces and at the same time optimising remote working, you maintain the benefits that working from home offers, you strengthen the connection within the entire organisation (think back to international cooperation!) And you create room for spontaneity again.
A new generation of home workers
Decentralised working means a major change in the current labour market. For younger generations that change should be much less significant. Young people are open to more independence and the opportunity to choose their own approach. Organisations need that mindset, precisely to develop and maintain new ways of working.
That flexibility does come with responsibility, and you need to be able to create the physical and mental spaces to stay productive and healthy. One of my annual passion projects is the Raspberry Pi school competition, in which we challenge young people from the age of 12 to use technology to develop inventions that solve social problems.
This year they are still working in a decentralised way, which means that they have to use technology to both develop the inventions and make the work process effective, and must constantly look for connections with teammates to make their project a success.
The challenge of the Raspberry Pi competition this year is to innovate for a better world. The business world may still be a long way off for young people. But I'm really looking forward to their solutions to creating better connections and finding new ways to get together!