The Pre COVID pandemic era conformed to the astuteness of criticality in office space use for productivity. In order to attract top talent, companies in the past invested big time in prime office space in major urban centers. This has been a global phenomenon. . Office spaces and their use were almost rendered irrelevant as Covid-19 engendered the need to care for staff. Many governments put in place containment measures that demanded people to stay at home. Part of the measures led the entire population of the workforce to relocate to their homes. Companies adjusted with speed to ensure business-continuity with employees working remotely to contain transmission of COVID-19. One positive consequence of this type of employee commuting was the increase in online economic activities. This has led to an increase in the range of digital platforms which have completely changed the way we used to work previously. Is this going to be a permanent feature in terms of work? We do not know for sure but the world will never be the same again.
Remote working has been researched over the years and business academics and analysts have given their views on technology trends that will revolutionize this experience. Commuting and working remotely had been growing albeit slowly but no one could have predicted the seismic shift caused by Covid-19. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 30% of the U.S. workforce, and 50% of all “information workers”, can be released to work remotely with almost no negative impact on productivity. Though the number of people working remotely partially or fully has increased, the COVID-19 pandemic may have pressed the fast-forward button on this trend.
When many nations went on complete lockdown, the entire functions of many global organizations were forced to work remotely. Remote working was no longer a reward for best performing employees or a luxury for certain levels of promotion. The ship has left the dock and remote working looks set to become the permanent way for the world of work in the future. As the containment measures lasted, organizations’ management adjusted quickly in adopting technologies for videoconferencing for meetings and other forms of digital collaboration to ensure that work was done.
Remote working accelerated
The containment of COVID-19 made remote working a make-do shift for many organizations with the aim to return to normal means of business. However, innovative business executives will have to weigh this inflection point to drive sustainable competitive advantage for their organizations in the new normal. Corporates must reinvent leadership and management strategies to enhance the remote workforce that rates output versus input. The shift of management by outcomes rather than input will redefine the organizational culture and makes current hierarchies at work almost redundant, organizations will need to adopt a more fluid task-based structure with varying measures of performance.
Prior to the pandemic, research revealed that the United States of America had 3.6% of its full-time workforce on a remote basis for at least two to three days a week. This percentage represents about five million people. As a result of working from home during the pandemic, 88% of the workforce now prefer to work from home. According to Owl lab research in 2019, 91% of employees rate better work-life balance as their top reason for the remote working preference. Increased productivity and better focus were experienced by 78% of the employees who worked from home. Avoidance of travel to the office was rated a top reason for working remotely by 79% of the employees.
Benefits of Working Remotely
It’s no secret that people value freedom of choice, the opportunity to work from any location on a flexible schedule. This would allow workers to do their jobs from home and remove a considerable chunk of the morning and evening rush hour. This would yield more benefits for the environment as well as relieve pressure on our crumbling infrastructure. This of course requires a new mindset for both the management and employees.
In the face of a dramatic economic downturn and global recession at that caused by Covid-19, businesses must begin to design new job-sharing schemes that allow for flexibility. This way many jobs will be saved. Working remotely during the pandemic becomes the new norm and will permanently rise across all industries including financial services and the public sector which have typically been office-bound. The remote workforce would make it comfortable for people moving to places where property prices are much more affordable. With the advancement in the internet and an increase in accessibility, the virtual office is going to gain more prominence. In developing countries this would prompt people to move to smaller towns and villages, hence allowing wealth to be more evenly distributed within a country. Working remotely will present possibilities for older and more experienced workers to prolong their working life on their terms and build work chances for those in rural setups.
Research done during the pandemic is similar to the pre-COVID orientation of most workers. Today in advanced countries over 90% of employees want to work remotely. Many employees found liberation from long commutes and travel as a bigger reason to work remotely. Better work schedule flexibility and increased personal and family time have been appreciated. Work-life balance has assumed more significance. Even though in countries such as Kenya many people have reported increased stress due to isolation during the pandemic, a significant number of remote workers have reported reduced stress levels and improved overall health. Saving of money and other financial reasons turn out to be fundamental factors to consider during remote working as the world recovers from the pandemic.
Barriers to implementing a remote work policy
In spite of the benefits of remote working, many companies have not embraced flexible working concepts due to long-standing company policy. These policies have not been placed because managers fear for productivity and team cohesiveness. On the selling end, companies can buy this concept considering that a typical employer can save tens of thousands of dollars per year for every person who works remotely half of the time. As companies go remote working, those that reject flexible structures will be rejected by potential employees when trying to attract new talents. This is because today three-quarters of candidates consider job location as a factor of employment. Flexible organizations opt to create a strong culture, attract talents with fewer locational constraints, and reward themselves significantly by reducing large office costs.
COMMUNICATION AND EVALUATION
To the newcomers, flexible working was a challenge that was deemed as a disconnection from work. Many organizations were not able to plug on an enhanced communication to the personnel hence a third of the employees in many organizations in the world we're afraid that their professional efforts were not valued. For successful remote working, leaders must develop strategies for connecting employees to the purpose of assurance. This is a sure way to enhance performance and retention. Employees working remotely require more specific feedback to support and make them feel more productive otherwise they will live in fear of their career and the future of their families. It is the responsibility of the leaders to step up to the plate and give personalized communication geared to building assurance. The human touch in remote engagements is crucial. Scheduled video calls are preferable in this case because you can see the person and you can also be seen. Scheduled virtual team activities developed into team building sessions through video calls help fortify employees’ solidarity even when they are working remotely.
In regard to matters of evaluation, remote working employees should be treated on the merit of performance rather than the station. The Measurement of work should be based on the outcome of results regardless of when and where it is done. Outcome-focused evaluations must be the tools used to assess the quality and quantity of completed deliverables. Regardless of where they are working from, employees should be assessed on behavior-focused performance which includes a person's level of cooperation on the team, supportiveness, conflict handling, and related benchmarks. When the remote working is on a part-time basis, effective use of time together in an office environment should be factored in and more formally acknowledged.