“Do you prefer working from home or the office?” is the wrong question for businesses to be asking. Here’s what you should ask instead

Work from home or office poll

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Millions of small businesses want to adapt to the new working environment. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many of these businesses struggle to adapt to a more digital and remote work setup. As more businesses try to support remote work, we must realize that the remote vs on-premise balance will vary for different industries and there is no black-or-white solution.

According to Google Trends, the term “Work from home” has spiked in Hong Kong searches significantly in the last year.

WFH Searches in Hong Kong

If we narrow it down further, we can interestingly see that the search queries correspond to spikes in the covid cases we’ve had in Hong Kong too.

As part of the WFH discussion, many people have shared social posts asking whether people prefer working from home or from the office? Or asking how many days they’d like to be able to work from home? These posts are either:

  • genuine attempts to facilitate conversations about remote work (which they don’t do a good job of), or
  • a growth-hacker’s attempt to get the most likes/clicks/comments on their posts.

 

I tend to believe it’s the latter.

Work from home or office poll

For most small businesses, this isn’t the right question to be asking at all. For most small businesses, their employees aren’t necessarily highly-qualified independent workers. For most small businesses, this makes it much tougher to establish work from home policies.

“Work from home” isn’t a black-or-white issue and not all businesses are meant to operate the same way. Our MyPropty team has a remote work setup ourselves but we also work with many small businesses that push back against it. We’ve realized this isn’t the right question for businesses to be asking. The better question to ask employees is:

“Why do you prefer working from home or from the office?”

This opens up communication between businesses and their employees. As a business owner, our focus is to enable our employees to be as productive as possible. And more often than not, it’s about them being in the right mindset to get their tasks done.

Example Case Study:

Let’s say your employee prefers to work from home. According to the above polls, you will have a binary decision of allowing WFH or not. However, if we ask “Why do you prefer working from home?”, it opens up new opportunities:

  1. Long commute times
    • Offer a shuttle
    • Split up into two smaller offices in different locations
    • Provide them access to various co-working spaces
  2. They feel they are constantly being disturbed by people in the office which lowers their productivity
    • Give them a Do Not Disturb sticker for their chair/table
    • Use a team communication tool like Slack to have non-interruptive communication
  3. They have a pet at home that they don’t want to leave alone everyday
    • Allow pets at work
    • Find a place they can take their pets during the day
  4. They want to spend more time with their kids
    • Allow more flexible hours. Work in the mornings and after their kids go to sleep
    • Work from home for part of the day
  5. They don’t like to dress up for work
  6. They don’t like getting in so early
    • Take your pre-10am calls at home, and come in after that
 

In fact, this dialogue may also bring up the alternative discussion: “What do you like about working from the office?” It will help you amplify the reasons they like coming to the office.

  1. They like the coffee flavors in the office
    • Add more coffee flavors
  2. They like interacting with their colleagues
    • Organize more team lunches
 

Using cloud software tools (which consequently facilitates WFH) will significantly increase your company’s efficiency. But a WFH policy alone won’t necessarily improve your company’s bottom line. I’ve seen many employees not accomplish anything when they work remotely. I’ve been one myself. And for some employees, it can be more stressful because they are now more focused on proving that they’re working than actually getting work done.

Having employees regularly come into common workspace helps develop a community with your colleagues. It makes it easier to retain employees as they now have a social component to stay with the same company too. It can reduce burnout because it can help create a distinction between work-time and relax-time.

So let’s finally open up the conversation. Why do you prefer working from home or from the office? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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