Ton Geurts shares his experience on working from home during COVID
Working from home has become the norm for many of us these days. Some love it while some would prefer to go back to their old routine. And yet, there are many reasons to believe that working from home, or at least a more flexible way of working, is the new normal.
Charlotte Kilpatrick, Bachelor Student in English Language and Literature at Merton College, University of Oxford, interviews BISCI's Business Development Director Ton Geurts. In the interview, he shares his own experience with home working, some of the lessons he's learned along the way along with his views on the future of home working.
What have you learned to love about working from home (WFH)?
Ton: 'In one word, vicinity. It saves a lot of time travelling and being close to the family is good. I have also found that working on Zoom and Teams makes every meeting very efficient; meetings are well prepared and much shorter!'
What elements of your ‘usual’ routine do you miss the most?
Ton: 'The informal alignment with people that you get in that quality time between meetings and on coffee breaks. There is no elevator to get into! I also miss walking or driving into work. Without casual networking the job becomes a lot less interesting and personal.'
Have relationships with your colleagues changed as a result of WFH?
Ton: 'Spending four or five months apart from my colleagues has made it harder to read them, to notice or anticipate problems they may be having at home or personally. Developing new acquaintances is also hard, cold acquisition is challenging when I am used to creating physical relationships. Without things as simple as lunch or dinner meetings it is hard to form those bonds.'
How has your workplace shown interest in the welfare of individual employees?
Ton: 'Specific meetings were organised to check-in people at every level of the business, so wellbeing has become a major source of interest. My old company found employees struggling to work from crowded kitchens surrounded by family, and the absence of free work meals has caused challenges that they are trying to overcome but these are things that cannot always be changed. My university has found a number of younger professors struggling with their domestic duties to families and children because they were spending time at home without a space to separate get on with work.'
Has this experience exposed inequalities among colleagues that you were previously unaware of? If so how do you think these can be overcome or mediated?
Ton: 'You cannot change living conditions – the problem is solved for the professors when childcare opens or an independent working space is found. The university bought new equipment for some staff, and I imagine that their new bandwidth package was prompted by poor connectivity in the homes of some of my colleagues. A big problem is privacy; some people are unable to create a personal workspace and their family life and work-life become entangled.'
Do you think this experience will change the way work is done in your area?
Ton: 'Corona has sped up the integration of the internet into all aspects of life and the clock won’t be going back. I think the potential efficiency of meetings has been demonstrated; no meetings last longer than an hour. People will continue to work from home at least partially because we won’t give up the positive aspects; the old fashioned way of working with so much travel will be much less. This is a relief; even though there are moments of quality time when traveling it is much nicer to be close to home.'
Have key business processes in which you are involved changed as a result of WFH?
Ton: 'Hiring, interviews, appraisals…everything has gone online. In supply chain processes everything had to be rechecked and replenishment mechanisms had to be rewritten. The way we go about acquisitions and joint ventures has changed; there is now less potential for the critical ‘lovemaking’ and creating lasting relationships that is done in person.'
What are the implications of COVID-19 for the Global Sourcing community, in your opinion?
Ton: 'From the sourcing and supply chains came to the centre of attention because it was eminently clear that they had to function or hospitals, businesses, and countries, would come to a standstill. Risk management and weak places in a chain came to the forefront. All sorts of strategies had to be reconsidered because nothing normal before is normal now. We have leapt closer to Artificial Intelligence for transparency, traceability, and analysis. Digital is the name of the game.'
Are there colleagues who appear to have managed WFH successfully, in your view? If so, why?
Ton: 'The colleagues who have thrived demonstrated managerial independence and forecasting abilities by responding to the early signals in January regardless of how society was choosing to respond. They had processes under control already and ensured chain transparency. This anticipation has allowed them to develop new techniques much faster.'
How do you think ‘best practice’ about WFH should be curated and disseminated going forward?
Ton: 'There is a tendency in society to try to bend back to our former status – already we see airlines are trying to open up long international flights but these simply cannot continue at their previous rate. Working from home and using the internet effectively will continue, online accessibility has been really significant. Dependency on the variety of applications available will only increase. There is a big question mark over office buildings in capital cities. If we continue to work from home these will stand empty. The need to travel extensively will decrease but there is a risk of trying to be more efficient than the human body can handle. Instead of casual interactions in the office people will and should continue to be more interested in employee welfare, and emphasis on socialisation should develop so that meetings allow time for small talk and networking.'