The coronavirus has strengthened its grip worldwide. The lockdowns announced by the Governments have forced people to practice quarantine at home. While these measures are essential to fight and contain the virus it has also brought about a paradigm shift on how the industry functions under these forced circumstances. One should understand however that not all profiles or all sectors can adopt this strategy of working from home
The coronavirus has turned out to be a boon for the growing work-from-home trend, making employees into remote workers almost overnight as companies seek to continue operations amid the global pandemic. The general work culture has always been reporting to work daily for and working from home was never an option. The onset of the corona has however been an aberration for many. Organizations are considering to offer employees not just working from home options, but also a variety of other flexible work options. COVID-19 is initiating a paradigm shift in workplace practices. However, many Indian companies are not comfortable with remote work. This is because these companies neither have protocols in place or business continuity plans for such eventualities. They do not have the required infrastructure like laptops which they need to give their employees who would want to work remotely. Post COVID-19 this flexibility would become a way of life at many workplaces. Many employees who had never attempted to work from home are now forced to do so and they are finding it efficient.
WFH and its impact on Productivity
However experts think that this makeshift arrangement will have a tremendous impact on the productivity of its employees. Though it attempts to maintain output and efficiency during the pandemic it could generate a worldwide productivity slump and threaten economic growth for many years. Many say they have never been so focused before and work is getting done much faster now. COVID-19 will bring about a mindset change in terms of how organizations are structured. To date employers and employees think that they need to come to the office to take major decisions that will be challenged. It may be early days, but the isolation has certainly made businesses realize that there indeed are more cost-effective ways of doing business.
Does the sales team which typically spend most of its time in the market need to come to the office every day? Or does one need to necessarily travel to various locations for meetings, can't they be conducted through a video conference? Do we need large offices, can't some of the employees work remotely? These are some of the questions that are increasingly likely to come up and they will prompt the need to relook at the ways of doing business. This is the period that industry needs to take the lead in embracing new business models and work culture that is resilient to such a future crisis and apart from just being efficient is inclusive as well.
Although studies have shown that flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, can raise employee productivity, compulsory work from home will see those firms that have not already digitized struggling to adjust. Some companies may have particular systems that can be accessed only in the office. These could be accounting systems which would mean finance staff cannot work from home. The main challenge would be that some employees cannot be assigned work while at home, leading to a loss in productive capacity. Multinational companies are likely better prepared for this than small and medium-sized enterprises, as they already have the IT infrastructure to communicate with their overseas offices.
Most studies on the impact of flexible work arrangements have concluded that working from home leads to better productivity and engagement. But these studies were carried out during times when working from home was not compulsory. In the short term, there may be a negative impact on productivity and engagement levels as both employers and employees adjust to this new arrangement. Some think that working from home was having too many distractions and difficulty in focusing, while the two best things were saving time and money by not commuting. Another issue that may arise is the integrity of the employee in putting in that many hours to complete the assigned tasks.
Time to revamp the existing setup
Companies must use this period to invest in IT and good human resource practices and can reap the benefits when the economy recovers.
As this becomes the 'new normal' mode of operating, workers and businesses will adjust and go back to the same level of productivity or an even higher level of productivity as we save time used for commuting.
Companies being compelled to re-examine core operations, use IT more widely and improve communication and engagement with employees.
Regular check-ins between managers and their teams; maintaining schedules that strive to separate work life from family life, and collaborating with colleagues on video calls rather than phone calls.
Managers should hold e-meetings regularly to update all employees on the state of the business and check in on them virtually through means such as video-conferencing and messaging. There are a variety of apps that can aid these meetings and help in maintaining productivity.
WFH may stay on post the pandemic scare. WFH is a “trial run on a big scale” and a “silver lining in the whole calamity”. Employers and employees benefit from WFH even in normal times. For employees, benefits include saving on the commute and more flexibility when it comes to work-life balance. For employers, the pluses are establishment cost-saving and enhanced productivity.
Improved technology has maintained the productivity
As most organizations have shifted to cloud-based technology, it helps employees getting access to the required data from the comfort of their homes. Several apps can assist you like one can use Google Hangouts for a team video call and Slack or similar tools for messaging. Project management tools like Asana help you achieve team outcomes while a list app or a Trello can help organize your day. Tracking applications and software permit employers to monitor productivity. Work Examiner, Interguard and Veriato are some popular options that companies can adopt. These tools might give businesses a sense of security and reassurance that remote workers are staying on task. Another interesting effect that technology has had on-at-home workers is that they communicate less often with managers, but they do it more concisely. Instead of constantly checking in or even swinging by their office to talk in person, remote workers tend to consolidate their correspondence so that there isn’t a constant back and forth. Cloud-based programs and collaboration tools also help to encourage this streamlined approach to communicate.
This is the right time for HR to recalibrate their priorities, focus on managing the remote workforce and re-imagine workforce models. Organizations will need to focus on building work alignment and work control through a structured work allocation and communication protocol. Providing meaningful work to employees, increased focus on business improvement and transformation initiatives, e-learning and certifications can be explored in this time of crisis.