What does Working From Home change? Everything...

By Jeremy Blake on February 4, 2021

Rhona Rapoport and her husband Robert were a couple who pioneered flexible working.

Their second book Dual Career Families which came out in 1971 was based on interviewing 17 couples and looked deeper than any study to date into how those couples managed in combining work with family, friendship, leisure, and other activities in the communities where they lived.

Rhona and Robert argued for the need to rethink the ways in which paid work and family work got done by both men and women.  This was at a time when the glass ceiling for women was made of an even thicker glass, and the decision to have children for many women meant an end to their career or an extremely hampered ascent of the ladder. That was 50 years ago, half a century of time has passed and yes there have been some changes and I hope improvements, but now there is the opportunity for more to be done.

If Rhona had perceived how a virus might accelerate forced flexible working, then she’d also have had to factor in a lockdown and schools being shut.  Their work needs to spawn a new generation of social scientist to look into how best we work in this unexpected age.

Rhona was ahead of her time and I think many organisations will still have struggled to understand, let alone adopt her principles. Coronavirus enforced change and almost at a stroke presenteeism has been side-lined. Thank goodness for that, let’s hope that remains buried.

Rhona put forward the case that it is not policies and benefits that create change, but the way work is actually done that needs to change to alleviate people’s work-life conflicts. Add in a home that is small without a garden, young or teen children, or even a home with other adults in it, then you have a challenge.

I missed an appointment today, not because of any technical challenge, but because my youngest had an outburst that started with anger, then moved to being very upset.  She was struggling to share paint she needed for her art project with her older brother.
Her mother, my wife was teaching live and asked us to be quiet as her students could hear the commotion, I say asked, it was other language and at a different volume!

Priorities changed. I made the decision to not make a diarised call and then we spent an hour together talking things through.  It’s not the paint. The paint is on the surface of the canvass, it is what is underneath the paint that mattered, and we talked about that.

That’s what’s changed. The people you speak to, or the person speaking on the phone, Teams, Zoom or whatever you preferred communication platform is at home.  This means their environment has changed.  If I was in my office and my daughter and son were at school, there wouldn’t have been an argument about paint or another adult trying to teach in the sitting room.

When our environments change, and with coronavirus and many of us at home, the people around us change.  I’m lucky. I don’t have pre-school or very young children requiring more support with schooling and I think my kids go to good schools that are doing their very best.  I can count the interruptions I have had to manage on one hand, some people must have multiple ones daily, and not enough hands.  Others are juggling more plates or spinning them, and you need to be mindful of that.

When our environment changes our status changes. I joke that at home I am in 14th place, after the children and pets, 14 is high a number, its increased due to the six chickens!  Previously someone at work may have been high status, their own office, a team around them, let’s say they are a 7. Now at home they have other things to manage and they are at 5, or they feel a 5.  The skill is to find some space and make it your zone, even if it is temporary and it reverts to being the kitchen 3 times a day, it is your office between time.
You add value, you are valuable, you just need to remind yourself why, especially if readjusting from a charged domestic situation.

About ten years ago Bob and I dipped our toes into looking at what research was coming from neuroscience. A lot was written about how people need to feel to move out of ‘avoid mode’ and into ‘approach mode’. We read some great materials and with the help of Master Coach Simon Crowe we developed workshops to take this research into business, namely, to improve collaboration in the workplace.

We used to run our collaboration workshops in person in a pre C19 world, the workshop is called DRIVES, which stands for:

Discretion

Roles

Integrity

Vision

Environment

Self-Worth

We’d often have teams wanting to change the work environment. Breaking down silos, changing seating patterns, having better communal areas, changing the art, all manner of things that they would collaborate over, innovate and make the space healthier for their work and team.

Now as I gear up to run a new DRIVES workshop online with a new client, the Environment question changes again.  I hope and envisage I can facilitate teams to help each other create healthier home work spaces and they can talk about how they adapt the space they have.  I am excited to think some really creative ideas will come from work around that ‘driver’ as we call them.

As you read the list of drivers above, you’ll see how they all connect.

“If we start with environment and you are not sat across from me, as I’m at home, does that mean discretion and my autonomy can have an update?  Hmm, I think we need to talk about that…”

“I haven’t heard the directors doing any company wide presentations and the ones they did a while back online weren’t great, what is our current or changed vision do you know?”

My integrity to not eat all the chocolate in the naughty drawer in our kitchen is new, but what about the fact the team are all going off doing their own thing.  “I feel my sales-team aren’t aligned”, is something I am hearing at least once a week, every week.

Team Reality has spent 21 years helping people get on with each other and get on with customers, new and existing.  If you want to know a good place to start, my advice is start with your teams, get them to connect and be aligned on what their purpose is and what they can do now and do better in a changed world.

If you like, have a go at DRIVES on your own. If you want to talk about us helping you do this, great. It’s just the kind of work I can get my teeth into.  Helping people find a connection again. Get the heart beating out a new rhythm.

Bette Pruitt who wrote Rhona’s obituary said of her, “Her effect on the people she worked with was to make sure they worried about how to make things better.” 

I think that’s a worthy goal. Rather than worrying about the things that really don’t matter, worry about building brilliant teams that are fit for purpose.

To learn more about DRIVES see https://realitytraining.com/reality-drives-collaboration-business-growt