Is Remote Work Here to Stay?

Just as many envisaged, the COVID-19 pandemic is supporting the remote working revolution. While businesses strive to get a more accurate picture of the implications of remote working as it fits with our environment, data gathered on the subject is now at its all-time high. What outcome can we expect?

Prior to COVID-19, remote working was established with a view of empowering office workers and freeing them for best performance. With the pandemic ravaging, there is a fast-growing acceptance of this form of working. A quick look at history reveals the pros of remote working. In 2018, the UK Office for National Statistics recorded an increase of about 41% in the number of people who worked from home for their primary job. Another survey has also shown that workers who work from home are 13% more productive. From a business perspective, employers can now assess the best talents across the globe as geographical barriers are broken through this model of working. These successes point to a future that should not hesitate in embracing remote working.

But is it possible that data on remote work gathered during this period will provide a contrary outcome? To what extent can factors associated with a lack of preparation and the pandemic negatively impact the outcome of remote working trial data? As nations continue in the fight against COVID-19, offices have been emptied, and employees are compelled to work from home. However, noting that businesses had little or no time to prepare, how will the following factors affect the experience of workers and impact decisions on the future of remote working?

Working While Parenting

A critical challenge that may mar the remote working experience amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of childcare facilities to prevent distractions. Schools and childcare centres are closed, and this leaves parents/guardians with a daunting task of parenting and working simultaneously. In a typical remote work scenario, even when it is a Holiday, parents enjoy flexible work time and child care subsidies from parent-friendly companies which helps draw a line between working and parenting.

Inadequate Technological Infrastructure and Training

A common position of businesses in the developing world is that they make little or no investments in integrating their internal processes with technology as compared to digital investments to reach their target market. The IT knowledge of workers is poor, and the overall rating of internet service to private consumers doesn’t meet the requirements for quality video streaming and collaborative working, which are essential for remote operation. As the pandemic continues, these technical lapses are bound to impact the experience of workers negatively.

The importance of training employees and ensuring the company’s Incidence Response Plan is in sync with their Digital Strategy cannot be over-emphasised. Organisations must imbibe a Digital Culture to be agile for remote working.

Strained relationships with colleagues and clients

The COVID- 19 Pandemic has seen people working from home, away from colleagues as well as family and friends for months. Some analyses have shown that working remotely for over 2.5 days a week can negatively impact relationships with colleagues and harm knowledge sharing. How striking will this be, especially for workers in sales for whom spotting opportunities and closing deals over dinner is a custom, and the lawyer who affirms to In-Person Communication to build trust, understanding, and a sense of mission with clients?

A study by the University of Chicago and Harvard University proved that conveying warmth through handshakes was effective for getting results. It activates the centres of the brain that is associated with rewards, but at this time cannot be conveyed digitally.

Ineffective Communication

Managers and supervisors require training on how to manage remote working effectively as well as the people insights to manage employees and communicate effectively. In a pandemic, having to keep working is not the only stressor. Fear and fatigue may also contribute to the stressful situation, and managers mustn’t worsen the situation.

Workers who have to deal with managers without an understanding of the communication style of their subordinates in a remote working situation may contribute to a negative experience. Taking a scientific approach, such as the use of our Thomas International Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) behavioural assessment provides insights for effectively managing communications and motivation .

Compensation for Remote Workers

This is a tricky but interesting subject. There is an increased demand for business leaders to develop compensation strategies that motivate their employees who have to work remotely. These employees may at some point become disgruntled about their personal expenditure for power, internet, or the opportunity cost of the workspace reserved for work. When staff suspect that extra bonuses may go to employees who have essential responsibilities and need to resume at the frontline, interest in remote work may also be impacted.

Remote working objectives and frameworks differ from one organisation to the other, and so do the kind of compensation demands that will emerge. It is important to seek support from experts who can align your compensation strategy to your remote working objectives, in a fair but competitive way.

Technology Up & Travel Down

The travel aspect of business is quickly affected by any recession. Organisations swiftly cut down on business travel to save cost, and this is not always a pleasant experience for the workers who perceive travel opportunities as a motivation on the job.

Turning to technology as an alternative to face to face meetings will also lead to a steady decrease in travel opportunities, but in a pandemic, this is understandable. Business meetings and conferences abroad have been cancelled or moved to virtual platforms, terminating what may have been a lifetime travel experience for employees and motivation to improve performance.

As organisations plan their post-COVID-19 strategies, these factors must be put in the right perspective as the future of remote work is decided from the data collected. The Pre-COVID-19 readiness must be factored in relative to the outcome of data collected from staff for or against remote working practices.

You must begin positioning your organisation for the future of work by assessing your organisation’s digital readiness to adopt an effective and performance-driven remote working practice. Your organisation’s Digital Culture across Leadership and People, Process and Structure, Vision and Strategy, and Customer Experience must be thoroughly assessed to mitigate the risk areas identified above.

Send an email to people@phillipsconsulting.net for a free digital culture assessment initiative in your organisation.

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Phillips Consulting Limited (pcl.) is a leading business and management consulting firm serving clients across Africa. www.phillipsconsulting.net/