Human beings are social animals. We need social interactions to thrive. Creativity and innovation require sounding off and feeding off others while focus on problem solving requires solitude and deep thinking. While the former can be achieved through video conferencing service apps like Zoom, Whatsapp, Skype and others, the latter is best achieved in seclusion of others.
When answering the question as to whether remote working is the face of the future work environment, it is important for employers to embrace the fact that employees have now gotten accustomed to this new reality and have actually acclimitized to it such that to go back to the office set-up will be an uphill task. What employers need to embrace is this reality and therefore allow their employees the option to work remotely on part time basis.
The advantages of giving employees this option are numerous. Reports have found that there is greater productivity and focus, reduction of employees stress levels, better work-life balance and job satisfaction which in turn makes the company a more desirable place to work and enables the company to have a much larger pool of potential employess to choose from as it is no longer limited by geographical constraints. All these advantages generally make the company enormously profitable. Further, overheads are saved as real estate/office space related charges, equipment and supplies, power and other utilities are reduced.
On the flip side, the main challenge for the employer lies in the fact that building trust and relationships without social interactions can be quite difficult. However, for remote working to be successful, it requires building trust with your employees. The pandmic has brought with it a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, both for the employer (how will the company survive the economic downturn?) and for the employee (will I lose my job? If not, how do I manage the stress brought on by the expectations of working remotely?). Stress levels are therefore high on both fronts with many employers/managers becoming overzealous in ensuring productivity of their remote employees and employees overworking in an attempt to prove commitment and productivity. Therefore, employers need to treat their employees with empathy and show them that they can be trusted while working remotely. This will in turn foster trust and commitment to keep businesses going as we move towards the new normal.
Another challenge that the employer is faced with includes implementing the option of remote working in a structural way and securing the infrastructure to ensure protection against cybercrime attacks. Most businesses already had the infrastructure in place to enable the remote working but how it is to be implemented and secured to ensure smooth operations of the company is the challenge. Finally and of utmost importance is the blurring of the lines of work-life balance. When your work space is the same as your home environment, it can be quite a challenge to tell when work begins and ends. Employers must invest in employee well-being if employee mental well-being is to be preserved.
Remote work advocates tout that ‘work is something you do, not somewhere you go’ therefore one’s professional success shouldn’t be dependent on location. Consequently, if we say that working from home is preferred, aren’t we still saying that success is dependent on location? This illustrates that our conversations should therefore be centered towards HOW we are going to work and not WHERE we are going to work once the post-Covid dust settles down. To enable the HOW, we need to focus on:
Accessibility- we need to be able to access the resources of our workplace outside the office through virtual workplaces i.e. software for information management. Companies and businesses need to invest in the necessary infrastructure for this.
Communication- Flexibility is called for to account for conflicting meeting schedules, different time zones and household interruptions due to geographical distribution of personnel. Avenues such as e-mail and recorded video services will enable this.
Results based tracking- Traditionally, managers measure performance by a sensory based method, that is, hearing phones ringing, the constant chatter of employees voices and seeing employees busy at their desks arriving early and leaving past hours. This is misinformed and outdated as it measures activity and not genuine productivity. Focus for performance management should therefore shift to results such as deliverables and reports.
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