‘Covid-19 pandemic has changed the workplace for the future. Period’
The blurred line between work and home seemed just a temporary effect of Covid-19 in the early part of last year. Now, as companies are chalking out elaborate plans for the near future, there is a realisation that remote work is here to stay longer than anticipated for a fair share of the global workforce.
“Our experience is that 100 per cent remote work might work but only for very certain roles and tasks. In reality, hybrid is the answer…Developed countries have a higher propensity for remote work, whereas developing countries have a higher propensity for physical work,” Abhinav Singhal, chief strategy officer (CSO), APAC, Thyssenkrupp, said at Khaleej Times’ second Remote Workforce Summit 2021 on Monday.
This is the overwhelming view of the participants at the summit that includes the region’s foremost industry leaders, technology experts, and key decision-makers.
“Covid-19 pandemic has changed the workplace for the future. Period. We all know that work will never be the same, even if we don’t yet know all the ways in which it will be different. If leaders can use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine everything about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies, there is a chance to retain the best parts of the office culture while freeing ourselves from bad habits and inefficient processes, from ineffective meetings to unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Melda Yasar Cebe, managing director for Middle East and Africa (MEA) at The Kraft Heinz Company.
“Estimates suggest that post-pandemic, some portion of the week will involve working from home — from one to three days a week. A hybrid model is likely to emerge that will try to balance the efficiencies gained by remote work with the benefits of social interactions and to creativity and innovation generated by working in person with others,” added Cebe.
Qabil Shah, senior director of Global Enterprise Marketing at Nutanix, agreed: “Covid-19 accelerated the work-from-home movement which was already there. Now, 58 per cent of millennials and Generation Z want to work flexibly and that is the talent pool that everyone is going after. They want to have a different working environment to the one we had. Also, the gig economy is growing three times faster than the traditional workforce, which is why it is important for senior leadership in companies to come together and build a digital culture, build a workspace that is different, and promotes health, empathy, power, and trust among employees. That’s what employees in the top talent worldwide are looking for.”
The pandemic has brought about the largest behaviour-change experiment for humanity. Before, companies have been reluctant to allow employees to work from home because of inertia and well accepted and entrenched norms. That is now changing, and senior leadership is seeing value in allowing a hybrid model of work to continue.
“Leaders are giving their people the space to take ownership of their jobs and allow them to complete their work how they think is best. Overly close management within an office can be counterproductive. Remotely it may not even be possible. Now is the time for empowerment, and empowerment leads to greater satisfaction, productivity and reduced stress,” Cebe added.
Safety is another aspect that has been well appreciated during the work-from-home regime. “By continuing to stay indoors or areas that we are comfortable in, we are probably avoiding the spread of virus that we might be inadvertently carrying around,” said Venkatesh Mahadevan, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Dubai Investments.
A lot of people feel safer when they are with their families. By being allowed to work from where employees are comfortable, they have been more productive, suggest studies.
Besides, this is also a good time for businesses to reinvent themselves. “It is already happening where organisations are skimming down on the office space where dedicated desks are being removed per se and more hot desks are being made available to give flexibility to employees,” said Jayesh Maganlal, CIO, DAMAC Group.
Companies are also benefitting from lowering costs because of facility management. There have been significant savings on the power and cooling services, and on basic information technology (IT) services such as printing and internet protocol (IP) telephony.
The post-Covid challenge
Emma Shakespeare, regional director for Mena at SAP Concur — who has worked remotely for a number of organisations over the past several years — said one of the biggest challenges for the companies in post-pandemic world would be managing various sets of employees who will either be working remotely, at site, or adopting a hybrid model of work. “Companies will have to make sure they create a culture which is seamless for all employees and benefits them equally.”
Mental health awareness is another aspect that needs more focus. Mental wellbeing will become and remain a key priority for companies, and leaders will need to be more emphatic and inclusive. “Over-control while WFH is not possible. It is the time for trust, empowerment and ownership,” said Cebe.
Greater adoption of technology could add pressure on companies. The bottom line, however, is despite the Covid-19 vaccination drive in full swing in a lot of countries, a hybrid model of work is likely to emerge as a norm. The Remote Workforce Summit 2021 is being held on Monday and Tuesday (March 15 and 16)
How to keep data secure when working remotely
1. Use a secure WiFi network
2. Use screen protectors when working at coffee shops or cafes
3. Encrypt files before sharing/sending
4. Install firewalls on your laptop/desktop
5. Only use approved online tools to collaborate and share files