This authored article by Akshay Sharma – Co-Founder, SCIKEY originally published in Business World
Work from home has been a widespread phenomenon since technology has allowed people to connect their computers and work remotely. Most of the global companies encouraged work from home to help their employees balance their work life, mainly in the USA. However, work from home remained restricted to employees working in the technology industry and that too for limited times and a limited set of employees.
Work from home remained popular primarily in the US and Europe as the maturity of employees and employers had been traditionally high. However, work from home (WFH) flexibility has often been misused by few, putting a question on the wide-scale adoption of this practice. Many top executives have been vocal in expressing their reservations to the practice of work from home. It has been seen more as a benefit to the employee at the risk of productivity loss for the organization. Before COVID, WFH was allowed selectively primarily based on the need of employees and to keep them engaged.
With the COVID outbreak, everything changed. The pandemic allowed employers and employees to reset the notion of work from home. The biggest hurdle of WFH model of working had been the trust deficit between employees and employers. COVID ensured enforced long and sustained work from home working for everyone. This time the WFH model mostly appears to be working well enough to convince employers that it can be the standard working model. The main reason for this successful shift has been technology, which is here to stay and improve.
The internet has penetrated most of the country over the last decade, which has been the basic building block for this success. Replacement of desktops with laptops in most of the organizations has been another convenience that ensured easy adoption of work from home. Finally, the availability of better telecom infrastructure, digital platforms, security measures, and increasing awareness levels, have opened up new dimensions which may enable more and more people working from home permanently.
With technology in place, finally, it now comes to the man behind the machine. Let us see how the human factors, combined with technology enablement, will solve the following challenges to create the next generation of highly productive remote workers for global enterprises.
Communication:Having a communication tool is a basic need, but remote team engagement becomes a challenge if effective communication does not happen. Employees working alone are always devoid of any information that reaches them in office through official discussions and casual chats. Efficient work from home must be supported by an effective communication strategy that should address the needs of employees in terms of the clarity of work requirement, reviews of the task done, and handling grievances. Managers should plan for some informal discussions at regular intervals encouraging everyone to share their thoughts. As per research, just listening to people can help reduce their stress levels to a great extent. Engaging employees through video conferencing and making them feel wanted are essential for a robust communication strategy at any organization.
Tracking Productivity:The Office environment always gave an easy way to observe people and their productivity. Without the proper capability to track productivity, it is easy for any team to slip into a low-performing team with WFH. Most organizations were introduced to the idea of monitoring remote productivity, only recently. Today, the tracking remains mainly manual and has significant scope for getting automated. Since productivity is dependent on task allocation, these tracking platforms need to function seamlessly with remote collaboration, team discussions, and meetings. There are popular tools that specialize in remote collaboration and productivity measurement that may help organizations overcome this challenge. Collaboration platforms such as Slack, Trello, Mural, Proofhub, Bitrix, ActivTrak and similar tools can help improve productivity remotely. Scrum teams are another way that is already proven to be highly effective in remote working but restricted mainly to the technology workforce.
Learning:Organizations require their employees to learn and adapt to the changing industry needs. Research publications by the World Economic Forum, have shown that learning agility and adaptability are among the desired behavioral traits for future leaders. Another research says that some people tend to learn faster, when facing challenges and when there is no one to help them. WFH ends up creating such a situation physically for employees who are working alone and pushes them to find solutions by themselves, before escalating or reaching out to their colleagues for help. WFH could, therefore, be a catalyst in driving professionals to become self-learners. The crisis could become an opportunity for organizations to identify future leaders and change agents. It is equally important that managers work closely with employees digitally and provide learning support to those in need.
Work-life balance:COVID has shown another side of working from home. It is overworking. With almost no option to move out from home, employees tend to spend more time on their computers, essentially overworking. However, like any new phenomenon, even remote working will eventually get more organized. Organizations need to devise policies and practices that enable a balanced work regime that doesn’t encroach on personal space.
Self-evaluation:Office working ensures that employees are visible and working together as a team. Regular appraisals, feedback, and engagement helped keep the individuals motivated. With the WFH model, it becomes vital for companies to create dashboards or digital reports that enable employees to monitor their performance against expectations. Without such a system in place, the WFH model can get under strain with employees feeling lonely, left out, and unclear about their performance.
Security:Another challenge associated with remote work is cyber and data security. As per Techradar, around a trillion phishing emails are sent every year, by hackers across the globe. To tackle the ever-increasing threats, companies need to create and enforce strict data management standards. Few such practices include using cross-platform Data Loss Prevention (DLP) systems, strong password standards, two-factor authentication for company accounts, using VPN solutions from reliable industry providers. Companies need to enforce advanced encryption standards for managing sensitive data such as payment information, personal data of customers, and regular audits. Most importantly, employers need to educate their employees regarding the latest cybersecurity threats with examples regularly, which can help spread awareness.
You may also read: The Art of Digital Transformation
WFH is here to stay, and it is high time companies develop strategies to make the best use of this opportunity. While WFH can save a lot of real estate and corresponding expenses for employers, it can also help save money for employees, reduce pollution, eliminate the stress due to office commute, and help improve work-life balance. Technology has already provided us the foundation. It is up to us to develop better controls and strategies to create a sustainable remote work culture.
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