Work from Home/Anywhere or Office Is Not a Question with a Binary Answer.
It could be a hybrid model with a mix of both, varying in percentages depending upon factors that get altered from workforce to workforce and industry to industry.
When the pandemic takes a retreat from our lives, and we are safely on the other side, what’s it going to be like going back to work. Let’s start by asking ourselves a very simple question. After the two most important factors — a. Fondness for work and b. Salary, what is it that attracts people to their workplace? Aren’t we fascinated by the variety of different people we encounter in an organization? Work from home/ Anywhere (WFH/WFA) takes that away from us. The learning that comes our way when we meet people in person and an added personal or professional experience that cannot be expressed in words would no longer be easily derived from one’s workplace if we choose to go with remote working.
A good part of the remote working discussion pertains to the performance and productivity of employees. It is about whether people will be as effective as they are from office? A part of your work can be managed unchaperoned, almost single-handedly, but then there is another part where a team plays a role. Yes, there is no doubt that some of these team essentials can be recreated on Zoom. However, there remain elements that cannot be replicated virtually, especially things that lack a structure or are not adequately defined. They get hard to be done on Zoom.
An organization prepares and cultivates its employees to become future leaders. A considerable part of the acquirement of skills comes from observation and the rest from training. When employees see leaders/mentors perform in real, they acquire similar skills organically, like handling a challenging situation or a meeting with troublesome or probably uncooperative people. At office, people get to learn a lot more than just the narrow domain of their work. It is especially true for those who are new to an industry. They need exposure to the good and bad of the business.
How do you make employees learn the nitty-gritty of hierarchical communication in a vertical organization virtually? In normal circumstances, they are at the scene, i.e., their office; all they have to do is sit and watch. A lot can be achieved virtually too, but it will take more time and much more technology than we currently have.
We already know of many big companies which have declared WFH/WFA as a lasting idea. We need to understand whether this is a well-thought-of and rational decision that's arrived at after examining factors that are significant not only for the organization but also for the employees.
What must companies bear in mind while contemplating making that shift from office to remote working?
1. Contribution of formal organization to getting things done.
How much work gets done with the help of formal components in an organization, and how much can be tackled by informal contacts. Research has proven that people find it easier to use a connection directly when they need help rather than taking a formal route. Still, a certain amount of personal and real interaction is necessary to make WFA effective.
2. Demographics of your workforce: Age and experience of employees.
Does the age or experience, or both, of an employee matter when deciding to make them work from home? I guess the answer is a big ‘yes.’ For younger people who have less familial responsibilities, an office is not just a professional space; it’s also a place where they share strong social bonds. On the contrary, firmly established older employees have families to look after and have a social circle that goes well beyond their office. Scheme of things that may suit one may not prove to be equally beneficial for the other. So, companies need to be mindful of their employees’ needs along with their own.
3. Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) might matter less than you think in the current WFH/WFA scenario. What draws job seekers to your organization? Remote working means there are now fewer factors employees have to consider while applying for jobs. They don't need to evaluate previously significant elements like the workplace culture, distance from home to office, good interiors; they could just as comfortably be working for you as they can for anyone else. How would you attract them, and once hired, how would you retain them?
For example, people get attracted to the culture of an organization. It is one of the factors that helps companies differentiate themselves from the rest. It stays on even when the people keep rolling. If culture is your USP and people are working remotely, why should they now choose you when they could be working for anyone. To grasp the culture of a place, you need to be physically present. It cannot be virtually indoctrinated or cultivated in a video or on a phone call.
4. How do you reimburse people under the WFA arrangement?
Do you compensate them differently according to where they stay/work from? or whether they have the required amenities, including an environment to work comfortably or both. It looks like it would first become complicated before becoming steady; if ever it becomes that.
5. What will happen to the people who can be easily peripheralized?
The marginalization of people who are easy to ignore, either because they are new or they like to keep a low profile despite their talents, would get even more prevalent as it may become harder to acculturate them into the dominant culture of the organization in a remote working scenario. It may impact the performance and psychological well-being of such employees.
6. Investment in employees’ well-being would take a back seat.
Employers would see their employees less often. It would make employers think comparatively less — at least less than pre-WFH times — about their welfare. In a WFH setup, they would be less emotionally invested in them due to limited in-person interaction.
7. Firing employees would be easier under a remote working provision.
When you are not meeting anyone head-on daily, you are less hesitant to fire them. Less forethought than before would go into how the person would feel about it and how you’d handle it when you run into him/her next time.
8. How do you deal with a situation where some employees are working remotely while others from the office?
How do organizations make it through a situation when some of the employees are in and others are not? The answer probably lies in the informal bonding that employees share with one other, which can be used when they are not physically together.
9. Building relationships remotely.
Companies need to develop better and more innovative ways to build and maintain relationships remotely.
10. Last but not least, how do you leave the frustrations of home at home and work at work?
These blurring lines between work and home space will take some time to sink in. It indeed felt nice for a specific time to be handling both without having to travel much. It also helped us save tons of time. However, we still have to wait and watch how it all works out in the long run.
Companies might still survive. It would be exciting to watch for differentiation regarding how they adopt different models and approaches and adapt to these unprecedented times differently. This differentiation would stabilize after a while. We would, quite likely, end up with a blended model. That itself will not be a painless task to figure out, for it is less easy to quantify factors like culture, mentoring, people’s emotions, and their experience.
On the contrary, productivity and compensation are comparably easier to measure. Although both need to be included while deciding the terms and conditions of the WFA framework, I truly endorse that unquantifiable factors deserve equal attention, if not more, like the ones we can evaluate or quantify. These factors will help boost productivity in the long run, precisely what companies and employees would want.