Productivity and communication are adversely affected when employees are new to working from home. The good news, however, is that experience helps. Those who have been working from home (WFH) for close to two months now have strategised ways to boost collaboration and production.
Among Oman’s top executives who adapted to the new way of working like the proverbial fish taking to water is John Pugh, MD of National Mineral Water Company. It’s ‘essentially’ not proving to be a problem for him. “Contact with key management is via a daily update Z meeting, supplemented with individual Z calls,” Pugh said, referring to the videotelephony and online chat services of Zoom that has become common parlance alongside WFH.
“It (WFH) identifies how non-specific your interaction was with face-to-face contact and gives an insight as to how much even without WFH conditions communication was via telephone and email,” Pugh said.
He has ‘absolutely nothing’ distracting him from work at home. “I do not find it difficult in any way – it essentially focuses on how wasteful time is simply travelling to an office,” Pugh reiterated.
WFH is going well for Tariq al Barwani, technologist and founder of Knowledge Oman, too. He’s, in fact, ‘achieving more, thanks to technology!’ In his experience, there are fewer distractions from ‘non-goal oriented activities’.
The situation gave Barwani time to carefully review emails and project proposals he’d received before the lockdown but was unable to look into them due to professional commitments. “I am also able to systematically and strategically plan and work on the projects I aim to launch as part of my commitment to serving society, the government, business and academia,” he said.
Like Pugh, nothing distracts Barwani from work at home. He encounters challenges only when he doesn’t receive timely response from colleagues, partners and dependent parties that avoid using technology in one way or another.
Asked for the most difficult part of WFH, Barwani put that down to ‘getting others committed to the new way of working – from home and using technology per se’.
But while technology is undeniably facilitating this new way of working, is the home environment conducive to work? If Stanford University economist Nick Bloom’s observations were taken into consideration, Pugh and Barwani are fortunate in not being distracted from work at home. Bloom researched and published a study in 2015 on how working from home can be very productive, but that isn’t the case in the circumstances most people find themselves in currently.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of WFH for parents with younger children is managing them. The shutdown of schools and transition to online learning for students has forced many working parents to take on the additional job of full-time teacher. According to Bloom’s observations, one essential requirement for a successful WFH programme for any business is that children are in school or daycare.
Distractions in WFH, quite naturally, include family members, young or old. When Ave Peetri, president of International Coaching Federation – Oman Chapter, started working from home in the wake of the virus crisis, “Initially people at home thought that I am available to talk or engage in other conversations. Now we have agreed that when I do not want to be distracted, I close the office door,” Ave said, adding that WFH is going well for her. “After the initial shock of too much screen time, I have learnt to not schedule back-to-back meetings and vary working on the computer with offline reading and writing.”
What Ave finds most difficult in the new norm of work is not taking on too much and limiting time trying to stick to a normal working routine rather than rush to answer messages when they arrive.
For William R Crew, founder and CEO of the Muscat-based SME consultancy Inspired Solutions, the most difficult part of WFH is being separated from his colleagues. “It’s harder to collaborate,” he said.
Crew doesn’t like working from home because he gets distracted by tasks around the house. “So I have to really focus for 90 minutes and then take a break, whereas at the office I can work nonstop,” he asserts.
Asked what those distractions are at home, Crew said, “Household tasks. My housekeeper is furloughed (with pay), so I am in charge of house cleaning. And I am making more food now.”
While some have adapted easily to WFH and others are coping for want of any other option, there’s no denying the fact that there’s simply no choice in the matter. Paul Schenk, hotel manager at Crowne Plaza Muscat OCEC, knows just that.
“Considering this situation, I think us humans are very adaptable although we don’t really have a choice other than to be adaptable right now,” he says.
DRESSING UP FOR WFH
Following the virus crisis, the future of jobs is going to be a blurry mix of work, life, pyjamas and Zoom. Here’s how Oman’s executives are now dressed for WFH:
MD, National Mineral Water Company
“Dress up for work in these times of WFH? Whatever for? Dressing up won’t make an incapable worker more capable. I wear relaxed clothes such as Chinos and Polo shirts.”
Tariq al Barwani
Technologist and founder of Knowledge Oman
“Nothing formal as such as there is no need to turn on the video, nor is there a formal requirement to attend a meeting with the video on. Depending on the time of the day, I wear pyjamas, if early morning or late night, and a dishdasha in between.”
William R Crew
Founder and CEO, Inspired Solutions
“I dress for work even though the office is actually the guest room. I may skip a day shaving, but I always dress – business casuals, no jeans. Khakis and button downs. No ties.”
President, International Coaching Federation – Oman Chapter
“I dress up for my online calls. It is nice for me and also respects the person I am communicating with. I wear my usual office clothes – business casuals rather than formal dresses.”
Hussain al Lawati
“Besides adapting and thinking out-of-the-box, it is important and critical to be professional in these ‘new normal’ days, too. We should conduct our online meetings looking professional. We must conduct ourselves smartly, following etiquette in timing and dressing.”
Dr Salim al Wahaibi & Dr Amal al Abrawi
“Dressing up for WFH gives you a feeling of commitment and seriousness. It is respect for the work you do, wherever you are.”