The pandemic of 2020 has reshaped the entire work structure of corporations and companies worldwide. In view of the same, HR professionals are devising new strategies and policies to not only cater to the remote working needs of these crucial times but also foreseeing the futuristic shift in work demographics in the aftermath. 2020 has been a testing year for employees and workers of all sectors, with lengthy video-conferencing, work from home issues and constant coordination with colleagues. Now that the initial shock of pandemic has subsided with workers returning to offices following SOPs, many offices are struggling to retain the same business and official structure as before. Some industries are foreseeing the continuation of Work from Home (WFH) even after the pandemic is over, reason being the shift in attitudes of employees post the lockdowns.

For years after the technological advancements, top corporations and leading businessmen have been keeping remote working options from bay, maintaining it to be unmanageable and impractical. With this delusion being shattered, many companies are struggling to adjust to the concept of remote working or WFH as they cannot decipher work and home life in togetherness. This is evident from the unimaginable growth and sales of surveillance software that organizations are buying and utilizing to keep a check on the employees during work-from-home. Despite all the tools of WFH being available to the employees, including access to Zoom and fast internet, many employers still feel that these tools are insufficient to gauge the productivity of employees and still vie for the conventional and conservative office-based work. Keeping the shifting work trends in mind, all businesses will have to reevaluate the changed scenario and devise apt remote working policies for employees, based on mutual trust and confidence.

Remote working is practical and efficient for employees because it saves them extra hours spent in commute, which may wear down their productivity in the office. Keeping in mind that commute for city dwellers takes up half of their lives, the option of remote working will bring in a breeze of fresh air for employees. Hence, with the defining of normal being changed in this extraordinary year, work colleagues have adapted to coordinating with and seeing each other on screens and virtual has become a reality. Moreover, the excessive travel meetings required to be held by many corporate organizations have also been challenged with flights and air travel halting for the moment. The world is coming to realize that spending big bucks on airfare is not as essential and same results could be achieved through video conferencing and e-meetings.

With the advent of new technologies being utilized at home by employees, many questions regarding the work environment have popped up. “Is going to office essential?” “Can I manage my workload at home?” “Is productivity enhanced or decreased in office?” “Is in person being the same as being on Zoom?” “Is WFH making me sluggish?” Such questions are popping in and out of the minds of both employees and employers all the time. These queries have been answered by many HR experts who hold that undoubtedly remote working will be a thing in the near future. The shift will be of location or presence only and WFH policies should be altered accordingly. In remote working, the input of an employee will hold lesser value and their performance will be gauged on the output and deliverables. Even if the employees feel fatigued with back to back Zoom meetings and coordination calls, their work appraisal will be dependent upon the goals that they achieved in a set frame of time.

Challenging the traditional 9 to 5 in person presence will also give the companies a larger and diverse pool of talent to choose from and will create work opportunities for differently abled people, single parents, caregivers and retirees. There is a huge percentage of such intelligent and talented lot that yearns to contribute to the society in some form or another but is hindered by circumstances or an incapacity to make it to the offices. In addition to that, employees will be having a more relaxed and healthy lifestyle by utilizing the commuting time to exercise, catch those essential hours of sleep and manage family responsibilities side by side. So amidst the crisis, employees around the globe are hoping that the commotions caused by COVID 19 might lead to a brighter work future wherein employees’ health and family life is a priority.

With the winds shifting, however, there has been an enormous percentage of downsizing with employees being laid off in huge numbers globally. Job security has been an impending concern during the pandemic and many employees are fearful of cutbacks in the future. This has impacted the morale of the workers badly and many of them struggle in face of this hybrid work setup. Another issue is the lack of resources and knowledge required for adapting the changed work environment. It is the need of the hour for employers to train and facilitate their employees with technologically advanced tools and make sure that the employees are comfortably transitioning into the new work medium. This will not only make them perform competitively during the pendency of this pandemic but also empower them in face of the radically reshaped work future. Guidelines to the workers regarding methods of working and collaborating in a work-from-home setup, WFH data security and best practices, WFH sustainable work practices and support for diversity and inclusion initiatives in a WFH setup must be provided to all employees by HR professionals of all organizations. Remember, it is not the time to deprioritize trainings but to boost up technical skill learning during the pandemic for coming up with a fully functional and skilled staff which is ready to take the advanced business sector by storm. Continuous up-skilling and learning is key to not just survive but thrive through the pandemic. Also, owing to the retrenchment risk, many employees are self-enabling themselves to consider varying career options in case of a setback. Many are also weighing in the prospects of starting their own small scaled businesses or entrepreneurial setups.

Keeping up with the work trends, many organizations are investing in remote working infrastructure and technology. With the popularity of virtual communication platforms up surging day by day, a rapid and large scale shift has been observed with top industries inclining towards adapting remote working technologies and policies. As working remotely during the coronavirus calamity has become a norm, it is there to stay and it’s after effects will not dissipate easily. Rather, remote working is on the rise across all organizations, be they from the public sector, financial services or education sector. Office bound jobs are predicted to become a thing of the past in the near future as remote working at all scales is being welcomed. Work will no more be defined in terms of a place one goes but rather as an entity one delivers. Official communication modes will change and formal virtual collaboration will take over. Owners and CEOs will be expected to be more empathetic by understanding the personal circumstances of an employee and adopting person-centric, flexible approaches accordingly.

With 5G technology spreading its wings and resultantly boosting internet reliability and speed across the globe, remote workforce has much stronger chances and possibilities of expanding further. The widespread adoption and usage of video conferencing apps means we are close to truly feeling like we are in the same room as our colleagues. This increase in usage will see the need for virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to expand and will accelerate the experimentation and adoption of such technologies, especially as their costs continue to plummet. We will also see a reduced need for national and international travel, which may have significant impacts on the business travel industry, including airlines, hotels, rental cars and insurance. With more work being done outside the office, corporate real estate can be repurposed or reduced. Individuals will adapt to make better home office spaces. Larger properties with space for work and recreation will become more appealing, challenging the current preference for smaller inner-city dwellings.

Remote working has further clouded the line between work and personal lives. The pre-coronavirus predicament focus on supporting mental health among employees will adapt, establishing new avenues of support as employees are managing large changes in their work and personal lives (health, financial, changed caring arrangements for children and parents) at the same time. Successful leaders will develop innovative ways to manage team member’s mental health and connection to purpose, which are critical to sustain performance and retention. Given the size of the change, leaders will need to embed new healthy behaviors in their own and employee’s lives. As we shift from managing inputs to managing by outcomes, current organizational hierarchies won’t make sense. A shift to flatter and more fluid task-based structures will follow and require new management skills and changes to performance measurement and reward programs. Company culture will also need to be re-examined. Employers will have a role in supporting employees to ensure their home working environment meets health and safety requirements. This will raise issues around the extent of the support, and ultimately who is liable, should anything happen in the new workplace, which will also impact insurance policies.

Employers and employees had a chance for several months to test the remote working applications in a variety of situations and as everyone grew more comfortable with the ease of the tech, using them as part of working from home may become more of the standard than the exception. Additionally, there’s been a cultural shift toward using video calls: We’ll likely look back on 2020 as a major turning point in how and where many of us work. As remote work becomes more and more mainstream for the businesses that can offer it as an option for their workers, it will be interesting to see what else evolves over time. We’re in a remote-work renaissance, with many options available to keep everyone connected for free or with minimal costs. Virtual conferencing software platforms stepped up to offer easy communications for millions of workers who still needed to find a way to meet and collaborate. Project management software can help projects stay on track or spot issues with keeping on the timeline. Tools for managing employee data, automating payroll and filling out HR forms also allow seamless virtual collaboration. Cloud-based onboarding has also made the new remote hire process execution possible.

The sudden shift to remote working has been jarring for many, compounded by other impacts of the coronavirus crisis, e.g. looking after families. It takes time to adapt to large changes, but the remote workforce will as we improve home office set-ups, start managing by output versus input, adapt leadership and management styles and improve technology. However, the change has left many of us with a few pressing questions that need to be pondered and answered by the think tanks of the world. Where will the new affordable areas that provide people with the right balance of space and local services/amenities be? Will a preference for inner city and suburban living remain? Do people even need to live in cities at all? How will cities adapt to this new world and meet the increased demand for connection and experience post-crisis? With more people working from home, we could expect there to be changes in the pre-coronavirus peak hour demands on our road, rail and bus networks in major cities. How will commercial real estate used for office space be repurposed to serve new needs for companies or the community? Could there be a surge in demand for outdoor spaces? Will the shift towards remote working be a catalyst to reduce emissions, balanced with increased energy demand in residential settings? Will this trigger new inequalities, this time between those who have a better workspace and technology at home? These queries will require increased focus for governments to balance new infrastructure with managing existing capacity more effectively and drawing national policies to facilitate the changed work styles.

About Zahid Shaukat

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