'There is no education like adversity' – Benjamin Disraeli
Working from home has been long spruiked, alongside other non-traditional working arrangements such as job-share and flexible hours, as a modernisation measure that increases Army’s value proposition to the modern workforce. Yet, broad uptake of this arrangement has been limited. As a result, there is limited understanding of ‘what right looks like’ regarding working from home in Army, despite long term discussion of the pros and cons in civilian workplaces.
This article is therefore written to contribute to Army’s understanding of working from home and provide insight into one sub-unit’s experiences.
Reflections on working from home – Officer Training Wing, Land Warfare Centre
As Officer Training Wing (OTW) completed the first session of All-Corps Major Course (ACMC) for 2020, the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions were implemented across Australia and Army. OTW was faced with a dilemma – rapidly transform the ACMC to enable delivery amidst COVID-19, or defer delivery and wait. Complicating this, Land Warfare Centre voluntarily adopted work from home (WFH) measures as part of our responsibility to preserve the force.
ACMC Staff found ourselves in an interesting position. Not only were we considering undertaking a major training transformation effort, we were to do this whilst adapting to a working environment unfamiliar to all concerned. The staff of ACMC adapted quickly to evolve ourselves and the course to meet this challenge. Over the last few months, the ACMC training package has been converted to an online, self-paced course, and subsequently delivered to a panel of students, by instructors working from their own homes, to students learning from their own homes.
A number of lessons were learnt during this process. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia recedes, the feasibility of working from home in the modern Army remains. Therefore, these lessons and reflections on the nature of WFH are offered here to aid others adopting similar arrangements in the future.
1. Stay connected. Being physically dispersed doesn’t mean being disconnected. A regular battle rhythm of SITREPs and reverse SITREPs, staff syncs, and orders maintains situational awareness amongst the team. Despite not being in the office, the staff of ACMC maintained our regular battle rhythm through daily chats via online platforms; this enabled seamless transition of work to the online environment, retained a sense of team cohesion, and still allowed for social interaction whilst isolated. Despite the plethora of anecdotal evidence of the upsides to working from home, research has also indicated possible negative results from long-term isolation from colleagues, both in terms of productivity and mental health, as well as team cohesion . Therefore, ensuring a regular routine, including physical training and chats with workmates is maintained, is essential to getting the most of working from home.
2. Have clear goals. The link between setting clear, challenging goals and increased performance has been researched and established since the 1960s . The staff of ACMC commenced working from home with a clear shared vision – the transition of the All-Corps Major Course from its then-current state of an entirely residential course, to an entirely online course. This shared vision enabled a high level of autonomy whilst retaining confidence that all members were working towards the same endstate.
3. Mission command. WFH arrangements are excellent vehicles for a commander to practice mission command. Physical dispersion means less ‘face time’ with subordinates and superiors alike, and therefore, less opportunity to micro-manage. Providing your team with a clear endstate and timeline, then trusting them to achieve those outcomes, best leverages the nature of work from home arrangements.
4. Leverage technology. As we saw in the initial stages of the global shutdown, online communication and collaboration platforms are essential to maintaining productivity. Platforms such as Zoom initially provided an excellent method for communicating, before security concerns rightfully prompted seeking alternatives. In the end, the use of the ADF’s online learning platforms, ADELE-U and BigBlueButton, enabled ACMC to be fully connected and to work collaboratively from our homes. These tools then enabled the delivery of the first completely online ACMC during session 0033. Informal discussions and ‘check-ins’ amongst the team was achieved through the use of social communication platforms, primarily WhatsApp. Additionally, interesting and engaging tools such as Mentimeter were used during virtual meeting to poll the group and gain collaborative feedback. These were then successfully used in a similar manner during the conduct of the trial online ACMC.
5. Be proactive. It is easy to rest on your laurels when ensconced in your own home. Opportunities must be exploited when they are presented and any inclination to procrastinate must be fought. The combination of clear team goals, mission command and a modernisation-based approach to training development allowed ACMC staff to proactively and creatively exploit opportunities. This ranged from the use of open-source multi-media to enhance asynchronous delivery (such as YouTube) to rewriting lessons to suit self-paced delivery, rather than simply transpose the same lesson plans to a different medium. In addition, when defining what qualifies as ‘working’ from home, it was agreed that simply tapping away at a keyboard was not the be-all-and-end-all. Research, reading PME blogs and books, watching videos or experimenting with novel training methods – anything that contributed to expanding our knowledge or advancing the vision of ACMC – was fair game. This broader approach enhanced autonomy and encouraged creativity, important factors when considering how to increase and maintain engagement and motivation .
The COVID-19 quarantine arrangements have been in place for a number of months now, and in that short space of time a significant amount of workplaces have been exposed to WFH. As Army continues to seek ways to offer the best value proposition to its workforce, its units, commanders and managers must be prepared to incorporate and balance working from home arrangements. Hopefully, the thoughts offered here provide examples of effective methods to implement such arrangements.