Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Taking Stock and Making Choices: Working from home and other such stuff


I have come back to blogging after a hiatus of almost 5 months. Mostly, business as usual at work and crisis situations at home took my time and attention. My father’s heart attack and the subsequent rush to Kolkata taught me a few things—about myself and my priorities. It forced me to take a long hard look at myself and what I’ve been focusing my energy on over the last few years. Because I love what I do (and I am hugely fortunate in that sense), it’s very easy to let my work consume me and my time. 

Much has been written about priorities and work life balanceespecially for women. And it is increasingly becoming evident to me how difficult it is for a woman to pursue a career (that is do everything it takes to grow and keep up) and also be the mother and wife and daughter she wants to be. I didn’t realise how deeply this constant tussle and tug of war have been affecting me at a sub-conscious level till I had to sit down and weigh some of the choices.

To be connected to colleagues and co-workers, be in office as much as possible. Skype and Hangout are second best. Face to face is different, and it matters as Simon Sinek points out in Restoring the Human in Humanity. Bonds don’t form over a Skype call but over coffee and lunch when conversations veer to the personal and discussions revolve around interests. Luis Suarez summarizes the key point in the para here:
… we need handshake leadership; we need to have handshake conversations, handshake friends, handshake dialogues, handshake meetings. You name it. We just need to bring back the human spirit into all of the interactions we keep getting involved with. It’s eventually what makes us all more humans…
But I have a problem. To be in office, I have to be in a different city altogether and this means I can only be a weekend wife and mom.  I did that too for a very long time…close to about 4 years till I decided not to.  

To strike a work-life balance, work from home as much as possible (most of the time). This taught me a few things about work, technology and myself. Technology—is great for exchange of information, updates and other transactional stuff. But not so great for building bonds and trust. Work—complex knowledge work requires solitude as well as collaboration. Working from home offers me plenty of solitude but not the intellectual stimulation and those over-the-shoulder conversations so crucial to serendipity, ambient awareness, and informal learning.  Activity streams and collaboration platforms can enhance and support such awareness but not replace it. Myself—I am a true blue introvert and while I had kind of known this all my life, Susan Cain’s Quiet. The book revealed me to myself, clarifying why I made some of the choices I did.  How does working from home affect me as an introvert? Immensely! For someone who cringes at the thought of social small talk and just picking up the phone to have a chat, being an introvert coupled with working from home puts me even more on the periphery of things than ever. I realize that I run the risk of just hovering on the edge—an onlooker but not quite a participant. 

To let people know about my work, socialize it as much as possible. In today’s non-hierarchical, networked organizations with fluid job roles, conversations over coffee are often how people find out about skills and common passions. In the absence of such conversations, I have to consciously make an effort to write about and communicate what I do within the organization. Now, if you are as old as I am (that is 41), you will remember growing up on the adage “your work should speak for itself”. This makes socializing (publicising?) what I do (when I do it) out of character and especially hard. It’s definitely a skill much needed in today’s extrovert oriented, non-hierarchical workplaces. 

To grow myself, go that extra mile—always. Ever since I started working primarily from home, I realized (even more so than before) the importance of online communities—within my organization and without. As a practitioner in the adult learning and development space with specific interests in social business and community management, knowledge management, capability building and organizational development, I have started tapping into different online communities where I can “meet” practitioners. While I have always been an advocate of informal learning (immensely grateful to Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Jay Cross and the ITA for showing the way) and communities of practice, I am now becoming an evangelist of both. Without the support of various online communities, I doubt if I would have had the fortitude or the skills required to do my work effectively.    

To add value, do the work that puts me in flow--always. Now this seems like an obvious statement. But this is especially significant when one works most often in solitude which requires a great deal of internal motivation. It would have been impossible for me to keep going if the work itself didn’t drive me. If anyone reading this is a knowledge worker and is thinking about working from home, read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow.  While it may seem idealistic to say “I will only work where my passion lies,” it is also intrinsically honest. If I am passionate, I will strive to deliver my best—not because of external reward and recognition but because of my internal drive. And as Daniel Pink has pointed out in his now legendary book, Drive, internal motivation is one of the driving forces of creative knowledge work.  

Are you a knowledge worker working from home? I would love to learn from the challenges you’ve faced and overcome…

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