About hrgem

HR type. Fellow of the CIPD. Writer, speaker and blogger on all things HR and work. Author of the 'Putting Social Media to Work' book series. Believes that HR is all about doing good people stuff. Blogs at www.hrgemblog.com. Tweets as @HR_Gem.

How is homeworking working for you?

I’ve already written about whether the current situation will really change how we work, or whether the old ways will just pull us back in.

Well I decided I’d try and find out some of the answers for myself. Along with some colleagues at Liverpool John Moores University I am researching employee experiences of working from home during COVID-19. If, before all of this, you more typically worked in an office but are now working 100% from home, please fill in this short survey. We are aiming to make the results available quickly so that they can be useful to organisations in their planning for future.

You can find the survey here.

Possible, flexible futures

If you read this blog regularly you will know that I am a big advocate of flexible working. In recent weeks I have seen it suggested that we will never go back to the old ways of working, that the case for remote working is now made, we will all be flexible workers now.

I am yet to be convinced.

Firstly, let us not conflate flexible working and remote working. Working from home is just one way that people can work flexibly, outside of the default 9-5 model. Secondly, we also need to acknowledge that what we are doing now is neither remote working or flexible working – not in any typical sense anyway.

Remember toom that research shows that there are strong biases against flexible workers, and these are unlikely to have gone away over night.  The current situation has challenged some of the myths about flexible working (technology being the main one) but many of the barriers and stereotypes remain.

When an organisation moves towards flexible or remote working it usually does so in a strategic, organised way. Thought is given to ways of working, equipment, communication, manager training and support. It isn’t normally something that we do with notice of just a day or so. It does not usually involve trying to simultaneously home school children, cope without a decent workspace, manage increased levels of anxiety, support friends and relatives with care or practical matters and cope with restrictions on our lives and freedoms.  We are not working from home, we are working during a crisis.

There is a potential different future on offer. There are certainly indications that there will be an increased demand for flexible and remote forms of working now that people have realised just what is possible. There is another future however. One where the old ways pull us back in strongly. Where the desire to manage once again by presence will return. Where those managers who have personally had a difficult time whilst working from home will simply return to turning down requests using that personal experience as evidence.

The business case for flexible working is strong. It is about talent, engagement, wellbeing, inclusion and sustainability. It can contribute to solving some of our big problems – if we let it. And that is the key. If we want a more flexible, remote future we cannot assume that this situation will deliver it to us on a plate. We will need to craft and create it.

HR – time to step up.

Wellbeing Resources

There’s no shortage of wellbeing content around at the moment. My social media feeds and email inbox is full of top tips on working from home, leading remotely, staying healthy during lockdown.

It can be difficult to know just what to read, or what to ignore.  I have curated for colleagues some of the more useful and interesting articles and links I have read in the recent weeks, below.

For anyone who is in a management or leadership role or supporting people that are, last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Sir Cary Cooper, President of the CIPD and expert in health and wellbeing about the role of managers in supporting wellbeing during the current time.

Please feel free to share.

Ted playlist on self-care.

From Harvard Business Review: how to avoid burnout when working from home.
From the Conversation – being a better manager when working from home.
Harvard Business Review article – That discomfort you are feeling is grief.
From the Conversation – the perils of perfectionism during lockdown

My interview with Cary Cooper on the role of managers in wellbeing is here.

Productivity Shaming

We are living through something that almost defies words. Each of us is experiencing it differently, with our own unique fears, perspectives, losses big and small.

There is no one way to be right now. No good or bad. Just getting through, the best way that we can.

In the last few days I’ve seen several posts on social media that fall into the category of what I’d call productivity shaming. Bragging about achievements made during lockdown. Suggestions, implied and explicit, that if you’re not making the most of this situation you’re not doing good enough. Maybe a little lazy perhaps.

I call BS.

This might not be the time to learn a language, write that book you’ve always thought about, start a new hobby. If that’s what’s getting your through, if it’s adding to your wellbeing, then of course do it.

In normal times there is evidence to suggest that learning and accomplishment contributes to overall wellbeing. But these are far from normal times.

But maybe don’t tell others that they should be doing the same. Maybe don’t suggest someone isn’t enough if they don’t take your path.

And to those managers pushing for productivity right now, expecting people to deliver like they always have, I say simply this.  Lift your head. Look around you.  Look up the word empathy in the dictionary.  The time will return to worry about metrics and measurement and performance against objectives.  That time is not today.  

We’ve all got much to cope with right now. Our normal resources may not be available to us, our challenges greater than ever.  Finding balance between the two for many, is simply impossible.  

A list of shoulds, musts, oughts and got tos on top of everything else to be faced are neither necessary or helpful.  Verging on cruel.  

Be productive. Or don’t be.

There is no shame. Just getting through.


Working from home – the etiquette guide

Just for fun…..

All you folks who have never worked from home before, this list is to help you with vital etiquette when engaging with others virtually in the coming weeks.

1. Do not just randomly video call people. Us regular homeworkers cannot promise we have showered / brushed hair / go dressed. Always confirm first if video will be used.
2. Do not schedule virtual meetings unless absolutely necessary at the same times as Homes Under the Hammer (10am daily, BBC1 – you’re welcome).
3. If you have an audio call and here some random noises in the background we might be cleaning our kitchen / sorting the washing out. Multi-tasking is our jam. Don’t mention this.
4. Do not comment on the home décor of the person you are video conferencing with. Commenting on their pets who come into shot is fine.
5. We might look smart from the waist up but there is no guarantee we will have proper trousers on. Don’t request anything of us that might require us to stand up.
6. If we take a few seconds to pick up your call, we are hiding the biscuit tin / frantically chewing our lunch. Don’t draw attention to this.
7. If we say our webcam isn’t working it is because we haven’t showered. All that advice that says get up and put proper clothes on? I give you three days.
8. We look better than we normally do IRL? We know where the button on Zoom is that says ‘enhance my appearance’. Yes this is a thing. Don’t mention this either.

And finally….. as we all start managing this astonishing and scary shift in all our lives, balancing work and sometimes home schooling, be good to each other.

Be well.

About feet

I want to talk about a photo.

A photo of feet.

Not just any feet, but working feet.

Specifically feet that seem, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, to illustrate issues like the gender pay gap, workplace sex based inequality and so on.

I know you have seen the photo (or one very similar to it).

There are a couple of versions around, but they have something in common besides the headlines.

There will be several pairs of feet. The  majority look to be male feet, suited and booted.

Then there will be some female feet. Always white.  Always appearing to be a professional or office type worker.  Always, and I mean always, wearing a skirt and with bare legs (or wearing some very womanly tights).  Heels are obligatory.

I have several problems with these photographs.

First of all – why and when did gender/sex related articles became associated with feet?

There’s a suggestion contained within that the only people (women) who experience gender and sex based problems in the workplace are professional, white and looking like a particular version of femininity.

Do women of colour, women working in retail, care or domestic work not experience the same challenges at work? Do women who wear boots and don’t conform to the old style idea of how women at work should dress also not experience discrimination, harassment, a lack of equal pay, career marginalisation?

Can we please find a better image to explain the systemic, structural and serious issues of sex based inequality in the workplace?

Say no to feet.

Being Human

Yesterday I sent a tweet about a conversation I’d been in that morning. It briefly described a situation that had been told to me, relating to a large UK organisation the name of which would be familiar to many.  This organisation was undertaking a redundancy exercise.  How did you know if you were impacted?  You were given a conference call number to dial, where you could listen to a recorded message.  Some people got the recording that explained their jobs were safe.  Others got the version that confirmed the individuals on the call were at risk of redundancy.

My tweet said that if you worked in HR and thought that was an acceptable approach, maybe it was time to find a new career.

The tweet has since had a lot of interaction; some has been from other HR folk expressing their dismay. Others have shared their own, similar stories.  I have even had private messages sharing other examples that they can’t mention publically, but all of which are frankly, shameful.

I stand by what I tweeted yesterday.

In HR, we have to do difficult stuff. It’s part of the job description.  We discipline people, we make them redundant, we change terms and conditions, we dismiss, reach settlement agreements, TUPE out and in, we change benefits arrangements.  I have done all of this in my career and more.

We do stuff that impacts upon people’s lives. When we do that stuff, we have an obligation to do it with decency, empathy and respect.  We have an obligation to do it properly and in accordance with all of the necessary policies and legislation.  We have an obligation too, to do these things professionally and with the individual – and not the process – in mind.

We should not do these things the quickest way, or the easiest way.  We should not do these things in the way that is most convenient for the business or the HR professional themselves.

Technology has its place – although the example here very much isn’t it.  But when it comes to job losses in particular, we must do this difficult stuff face to face.  It is the very least we can do.  Oh, and for the record, that means you go to them, you don’t get someone to come and meet you miles away from their home or office to get the worst of the news.

This is what being a human resources professional is really about. It’s not about resources, it’s about people.  They day we forget that, the day we set up a conference call to take away someone’s job, is the day we don’t deserve to work in HR.

Feel free to get your coat on the way out.