People keep asking me how we will be able to keep working from home now vaccines are rolling out. Working from home has helped a lot of Australian workers. We’ve seen the productivity benefits talked about in the news. Years’ worth of guilt and concerns re: workplace flexibility melt away in 2020.

People managing disability, mental health or are non-neurotypical feel far more included in a COVID working world. Many families aren’t missing the rush to school or to finish work in school hours. Despite having to home school kids and find a new normal with working partners, it feels more flexible. And even the somewhat grounded digital nomads are finding there’s a tiny joy in local travel at home or overseas.

Gone are the days of freelancers dragging their butts into offices for a meeting. Or at all. Or cross town for a coffee. Nobody is asking about surveillance when you suggest working from home. This has improved the ability to win work, do the work, and feel better while doing it.

There’s something to be said for maintaining the normalisation of working from home. Yet as COVID-19 recedes and vaccines begin their roll out, the presenteeism culture looms. We’re already seeing more and more opportunities listing an expectation of working in-house. This is across full time, part time, contract and project-based work.

This is a unique challenge that both freelancers and those who want to stay full time employed face. We will lose these gains to complacency if we’re not careful.

Here’s how we can come together to protect working from home as a viable alternative. Are you ready? Let’s jump into part one of the three part series (hey, I had a lot of thoughts!)

Step one: Understand how pain is essential to make change

Working from home became the new normal because we had little choice. It was not worth the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. As the threat recedes, a return to form will push working from home back into the shadows. We haven’t experienced the new order long enough. Big business will want to revert to what is familiar.

Compassion plays a huge role in situations like this.

You can’t move forward until you recognise that business felt like its hand was forced. And that leadership may have faced a lot of problems, costs and sleepless nights to provide a working from home environment.

A lot of companies hurt a lot to do the pivot they did to accommodate their workforce and adopt the working from home model. Instead of punishing them for wanting to go back to what made them comfortable, there needs to be a little compassion and empathy here.

Action points:

Recognise the amount of work businesses small and large did to shift their butt out of the COVID-19 fire. It cost a lot of money and time to make some of those changes. And it still costs some workplaces today.

What you need to do in these sorts of situations is:

· Recognise the work done to get the workforce working from home. Show gratitude and empathy towards organisations that made a move they otherwise wouldn’t make. 

· Remind them that they have made that change under duress. But that doesn’t mean the change isn’t valuable. Or that they can’t get their money’s worth if the cost and benefit are still in favour of the old system

· Understand that not all workers want remote working conditions. Acknowledging this fact doesn’t mean an end to you receiving what you need. Encourage workplaces to realise the days of “all or nothing” thinking are over. Normalise the new hybrid model for their benefit (more on that later).

 

Step two: Realise we’re in this together

Humans are funny creatures. We know that the sheer volume of people that ask for change is will often create the change. Yet we’re easy to divide and conquer. We like wearing our own labels and feeling distinct from other humans.

This leads us to quibble over leadership, approach, the finer detail and a whole bunch of other stuff that distracts us from making a difference. Take freelancers for example. We’re so caught up in whether we should call ourselves freelancer, we miss opportunities to come together as a community on a regular basis. Who cares about minutiae when you’ve got real problems?

Mature movements recognise that you will never get to the nirvana of perfection or fitting all voices 100% of the time. That variance in opinion and nuance can be a good thing. Problems that unify a broad spectrum of people are big enough to get politicians and power brokers noticing. It demonstrates the web developers agree with the writers and the account managers. Even though there is a variation of why that agreement exists.

Action plan:

Always remember that you don’t have to like someone to help someone. Focus on the challenges you face as a common goal.

Look what you can do to:

· Identify the problems at hand

· Look for overlap between the change you both want to see

· Connect on a values level (this protects you from losing focus later)

· Stop personalising the situation. Think about the audience you want to rally – and the target you want to listen to you once you have rallied.

In the case of working from home, your audience is much, much broader than freelancers. Reaching other audiences makes it a lot easier to campaign for a sustainable new workplace normal.

This might include:

· Getting buy in from working parents. Or associated support groups including grandparents who often supply after school care

· Appealing to often excluded groups such the disability community, people with mental health conditions and so on

· Reaching out to bodies that advocate for workplace flexibility. Examples might be our peak mental health bodies in Beyond Blue’s Heads Up program and RU OK

· Enlisting the advocacy scene. Widen the appeal with anti-bullying and mental health advocates. Talk to workplace safety campaigners and other allies

· Getting in touch with professional bodies and unions to appeal to their membership about working from home benefits

· Invite large-scale organisations working from home without ill-effects to normalise the idea. Atlassian and many of the start-up companies spring to mind.

If you want to make a change on a societal-scale, it’s important to recognise you are doing something that is bigger than you or your ego. And that is truly amazing, but requires many hands to make light work.

Next, we take a look at how to identify what you want from working from home and how to persuade the decision-makers (i.e. bosses, legislators, clients and structures) that the idea benefits them in the long term, too.

Check out how to know what you want from working home and share that idea with the boss now.


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