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What if working from home goes on forever?

Providing and receiving genuine appreciation is one of the best points of office life. It should never take a back seat, even while working remotely (Photo: iStock)Premium
Providing and receiving genuine appreciation is one of the best points of office life. It should never take a back seat, even while working remotely (Photo: iStock)

As the covid-19 pandemic forces more companies to consider remote working their new reality, keeping the human touch alive in our interactions with colleagues by making that extra effort to crack a joke or praise someone becomes more important than ever before

It is now several months since we began working from home. Some of us have returned to our offices, partly if not fully. Some of us are still eagerly awaiting the safe reopening of our cities. In a few other cases, organizations have announced that work from home (WFH) will continue for much longer, perhaps become a way of life.

Now, that’s not too bad at all, say some of my friends because WFH saves on commute time, and you know what, the last few weeks have shown that we can deliver even better productivity from our houses. None of the silly distractions of office, hence better work output. Some other friends believe all this short-term productivity has only been possible because we know our colleagues well, we have built strong bonds with them by working together in offices for several years. That social capital can sustain a few months of WFH and transactional video calls, and then we will need to be back in our offices, for sure.

Even while this interesting debate is running its course, there is one aspect of work from home that we would do well to pay heed to – the human touch, which can bring in the fun and happiness of our offices into our homes. I am not talking here of knowledge webinars or online learning programs, which are no doubt important because they keep us engaged intellectually.

I am talking of recreating the joys of offices, and banishing the loneliness that often accompanies WFH, with small little touches that we often forget. Here are a few of them.

Make time for corridor talks

Spontaneous corridor conversations are such a wonderful part of office life. You meet a colleague on your way towards the staircase or pantry, or you drop in at their workstation on a whim, and you get around to immediately discussing something which has been on both your minds. These are unplanned meetings, but I think we look forward to them.

WFH, because everyone is remote, tends to be much more planned, with meetings that are scheduled and calendarized well in advance. You can break this well scheduled, rigid pattern by calling a colleague spontaneously, at lunchtime or at end of day, just to talk about something that needs a little bit of smart navigation, or to pick each other’s brains about some unique problem that needs resolution. Such spontaneous calls are so different from scheduled and well planned video meetings, that they trigger a different channel in our minds, and leave us fulfilled in a nice and charming way.

Sit back and relax

Having coffee and tea together with your team-mates is one of the most relaxing rituals in our offices. This is also the time for banter and light conversation. Some teams prefer to do this in the mornings, and others in the late afternoons.

You can bring this joyful coffee break into your WFH routine too, by scheduling virtual coffee breaks with your colleagues, over a video call, once or twice a day. Switch on the video, see each other, sip your cups of coffee, and chat for a while. Stay off serious work topics during virtual coffee time. But irreverent references to the workplace, or poking a bit of fun at yesterday’s virtual meetings, are totally in order.

Humour always helps

Offices and conference rooms come alive when there’s a touch of humour in the air. When we take a break during a meeting in the office, there’s often humorous banter that goes around. Some colleagues are naturally more humorous, and they ensure meetings do not get too uptight, boring or serious. There is a tendency for meetings over video to be largely devoid of humour, because everyone is focused on productive conversation and the transaction at hand. It is also easier to be humorous when you are actually seeing each other, at close quarters.

You can address these deficiencies by injecting some WFH humour yourself, into a few remote meetings that you are part of – particularly with teammates whom you know very well. Towards the end of any such remote team meeting, request your colleagues to switch on their video feeds, and one or two of you can then narrate a small humorous incident each, from your homes. You will be surprised by the stock of domestic humour, primarily relating to valiant efforts at child-care, cooking or cleaning, that is readily available among your colleagues. The meeting will end with a few chuckles, for sure.

Go ahead, appreciate your peer

Often caught in our own WFH warp, we focus on being very productive, and forget to convey our appreciation for others’ achievements, however small or big.

Providing and receiving genuine appreciation is one of the best points of office life, and this should never take a back seat, even while working remotely. In offices, we see our colleagues regularly, and so we are able to convey our thanks or praise in person. When we work from home, we don’t meet them personally. So, it is useful to keep note of any achievement that strikes you as commendable, and then send your colleague a message of generous admiration for what she or he has been able to deliver. Remember that this is still a pandemic and a crisis, that people are working with anxieties about their health and families. Hence, taking the extra effort to share a word of praise, even for a small accomplishment, is worthwhile during these difficult times.

Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group. He tries to bring a human touch to his WFH routine by engaging in arguments on video calls because arguing is human

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