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Studying at the Hands of a Master Craftsman

In today’s work environment, we hear so often that one of the benefits that employees desire is the ability to work remotely. Having worked many years for a Fortune 500 company that went from having everyone work from an assigned office to having most non-manufacturing employees work from home, me being one, and now working a smaller company, where most of our employees work from the office, I can see the pros and cons of both scenarios.

Having the flexibility to go down to the basement for work saved money on gas and food. It made scheduling maintenance people to come out to our house easier and it made it simple to run quick errands in our neighborhood. I also got in a couple of extra working hours due to not having a commute.

Fortunately for me, when I started working from home, I already had years of experience and I knew many people in our company. Since I’m a “people person,” I could banter with others on conference calls because we had a relationship already – I didn’t really miss seeing people in the office. For people I didn’t know, it was more challenging than before to get to know them. In spite of that, I liked working from home and thought I was at least as productive there as when I went into an office every day.

A recent Wall Street Journal article made me realize that while I enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, I was missing out on valuable “face time” with colleagues. The article, entitled “Hot Seat,” proposed that if someone wanted to boost their performance at work that they should pick a colleague who excels in an area where they want to improve and move their desk next to him or her. It stated that by simply sitting next to a high achieving friend, a person can improve their performance by 3% to 16% according to a two-year Northwestern University study of 2,452 help-desk and other client-service workers at a technology company.

The article made me recall that the best training I ever received was by having “hallway and water fountain” conversations with my peers who had more experience than me. Just asking, “What would you do in this situation?” created valuable input that improved my skills. Having a cup of coffee or a meal with someone I looked up to provided a wealth of information about how I could be more productive by modifying my approach. I agree with what the Wall Street Journal suggested because I learned from watching how those more senior colleagues did things like prioritizing activities, saying no to things that weren’t important, and watching how they conducted themselves on the phone and in person and the response they got from other people.

I’ve seen with my current employer how valuable daily in-person interactions are to building teamwork, mentoring, and providing a forum for “apprenticeship” scenarios, where less experienced people can learn from the tenured ones. It’s easy to forget how valuable apprenticeships can be for someone to build their skills. We seem to not remember that for thousands of years, apprenticeship was the way everyone learned, no matter what the job was.


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