Article (June-2020)

Articles

Qualitative output will be more crucial, not the physical presence

Debjani Roy

Designation : -   CHRO

Organization : -  Mind Your Fleet, (Kromozones Software Pvt. Ltd.), New Delhi

01-Jun-2020

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How COVID-19 is going to impact the work of future and what can be the framework of work from home model?

DR The world will never be the same again, and for the most of us, we can't really think beyond the present and survival, but as the Persian proverb says 'this too shall pass'.

At some point in the future we will need to turn our attention from survival to adaptation. Leaders in society and in business will need to consider the post-coronavirus landscape to understand how this crisis will have altered the psyche and behaviours of the population. Whether there is ever a time that we will call 'business as usual' remains to be seen, but one thing is sure - the scars of this crisis will linger for generations.

What will it mean for the way we work? In the scramble to shut down, every organization had to embrace a mobile way of working. Having arrived home and got set up, we have all had to get used to the tech which enables us to work anywhere, anytime. It has propelled IT and technology to the forefront. The companies who had already embraced a dispersed structure or even a degree of agile working have a significant head start over more traditional players, who will experience all the pitfalls of the shift to remote without enjoying the benefits. Having migrated from our offices, business leaders are now raising questions about the expensive workplaces which now stand locked and silent. But one thing seems certain - this and similar structures of work would probably become the predominant work from home model(s) from hereafter.

Do you think that work from home has been a compulsive opportunity created by Covid for organisations during crisis? Can it be long term viable solution?

DR Yes and No - to the first question. New age organisations / industrial segments like IT, ITES, Workplace Designing & others have always found the WFH model very conducive for their delivery. Remote work has been till date, offered by some companies as a way to offer a more flexible lifestyle to their employees, rather than be the norm for most businesses. Given that many of these works are not location dependent and can easily follow the norms of a distributive model in a virtual environment - such WFM trends have already been there both at an International as well as India level for few good years now.

Having said that, COVID 19 has managed to lend a final stamp of credibility to the WFH pattern of working.The on-going effect of this period (when COVID has struck) is that many of the key tenets which till now have been the underpinnings of our society, our economy, our ways of work - all have been thrown into question. Social distancing becoming a norm that many are stating - is here to stay -will further encourage distributive patterns of work delivery, which in turn would look at WFH as a solution.

Can it be a long term viable solution? Time will tell. As of now - the struggle for economies to come out of the slump that COVID has created worldwide, is forcing organisations to look at sustenance/ recovery models for themselves. Again WFH may just become the answer to many - which by definition precludes the need for large scale and plush office infrastructure, and related costs on employee transportation, benefits etc. What it would however mean to the traditional definition of what an organisation has meant till date in terms of culture and people affinity - will be an interesting aspect to look out for.

How much remote working readiness has been achieved by Indian organisations and how workplace relationship will be redefined in such organisations?

DR On a scale of 10, I would plot remote working readiness at 3. And that probably doesn't sound too encouraging at all. Also the readiness is probably to be found in pockets only, around software hubs, IT Parks etc. The rest of Indian organisations have pretty much been functioning in traditional ways, operating out of brick & mortar office infrastructures.

With the frenzied spread of COVID 19 however, remote working readiness has suddenly picked up speed and is likely to gather further momentum in the days to come. In the absence of any permanent or interim remedy available to take care of the COVID calamity in the near future, managements and the HR fraternity in particular are putting plans together to make remote working the biggest reality for now. HR also needs to take special care alongside, to suggest interventions, programs etc. that would re-align the workforce around the new norms of work, while retaining the old organisational value system at the same time.

What is important- 9 to 5 office work culture or work output? What organisations should do to ensure better productivity adopting work from home model?

DR According to me, (and there does seem to be a very strong opinion emerging within my fraternity)  it is not so much the routine 9 to 5 office work culture that would be the preference of the coming generations, but more importantly whether the assigned work is delivered on time, as per quality  standards specified. What will however be of critical importance during this transition will be to ensure that the original organisational fabric in terms of its culture, people values, ethos and principles remain protected and are further augmented through structural interventions.

What kind of problems and challenges will be faced in future and how HR should prepare to meet while implementing WFH?

DR If one were to ask someone working remotely or from home running their own business: it does become clear that it is not all rainbows and unicorns. We found that while employees are more productive when they work outside of the conventional office, they're also more vulnerable to working longer hours, a more intense work pace, work-home interference, and, in some cases, greater stress.

One of the reasons many managers don't approve of remote work is they fear employees will slack off without that physical, in-person oversight. But, in fact, the opposite tends to be the reality: remote workers are more likely to overwork. When your personal life and your work are both under the same roof, it's harder to switch off.

Alternatively, if one doesn't have family members home when one's working, one might develop another problem: isolation. Even with internet access and tools like Slack, one might still develop "cabin fever" from being in the same place for too long all by oneself.

Developing innovative and enriching employee engagement programs that would cut across boundaries, time-zones, technology issues would have to be put in place. Communication would be key - and continuous communication with remote workers on every small or big matter would address alignment issues. Besides - HR would have to continuously make available online learning opportunities for people to ensure that competence and skill building initiatives are taken advantage of.

What requires to be done in keeping virtual teams engaged and productive and bring sense of togetherness?

DR Remote work is not an option or a privilege any more. Specific strategies will need to be put in place in order to keep remote teams productive, engaged, excited and healthy. They are:

  • Create a 'sense of belonging' in the remote worker - through communicating on a regular basis, providing opportunities for not only showcasing ability to work, but also other skills and competencies, regularly conduct engagement activities online, provide learning opportunities etc.
  • Define Goals for remote workers - With remote teams, where communication is more challenging and things can get lost in translation - it's important to be crystal clear about their duties and responsibilities.
  • Define a clear and precise internal communications strategy - Setting up periodic virtual or in-person all-company meetings is crucial to help everyone stay on the same page and understand core company values, directions, strategy etc.
  • Communicate regularly and candidly
  • Check in frequently and be proactive - As remote teams may feel disconnected, managers who lead remote teams need to make themselves available. Frequent check-ins with remote workers is a great way to help them overcome challenges that come 3
  • Make collaboration more efficient - Team collaboration is one of the main factors for greater productivity. Therefore, many employers are trying to improve the way remote teams work together.
  • Enable and Encourage knowledge sharing - use technology for the same
  • Ensure remote workers do not get left out from career progression opportunities
  • Train the Managers - For remote teams to be productive and engaged, it is crucial for managers to understand how remote employees should be led and managed.Hence, training becomes crucial.

What can be the positive and negative effect of WFH on company work culture?

DR I will dwell on the positive effects first. They are:

I. Saved time on commuting - Remote work saves time and money for one's employees and it can have a positive impact on one's business as well.Commuting every day can have a negative effect on your employees.

II. Lower expenses - If a number of your employees work remotely that means that you will need to rent less office space, which can save you a lot of money every month.

III. Increased productivity - Various studies have proven that employees working from home are more productive than those working in the office. E.g.: Stanford - 13% more productivity.

IV. Easier recruitment & better retention rate - Working from home has become one of the benefits that employers use a lot in their recruitment and talent acquisition efforts. Millennials and Generation Z want flexibility and mobility in their everyday life.

V. More flexibility - As long as the results are not missing, your employees can be free to organize their days.A computer connected to the internet and a mobile phone are what is required to do remote work.

VI. Less sick days & lower absenteeism - For remote workers, a number of days spent on sick leave is lower. Employees that are working remotely only take sick leave when they have serious medical problems that require them to go to a doctor or hospital.

Even though remote work may help one build a successful business, it also has drawbacks like lower work-home balance, more distractions, decreased sense of belonging and connection, lack of communication, lower reliability and accountability and increased security challenges.

Can use of excessive technology to make WFH workable also bring the cyber and IPR threats to business organisations and how to mitigate such threats?

DR Yes - it very well can. Enterprises must consider the consequences of working from home in terms of systems access, access to internal IT infrastructure, bandwidth costs and data repatriation. What this means, basically, is that when your worker accesses your data and/or databases remotely, then the risk to that data grows.

Here are some of the approaches to take to minimize these risks:
  • Provide employees with basic security knowledge with VPN access and making provision for security protection. Other safeguards could be: Running a password audit, ensuring that software is updated, encourage the use of (secure, approved) cloud services, resetting default WiFi router passwords, taking mandatory backups, warning against he use of USB sticks, developing contingency plans etc.