A new normal! Work from home is here to stay

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A new normal! Work from home is here to stay

Friday, 21 August 2020 | ACHYUTA SAMANTA

The Covid-19 crisis and our efforts at flattening the curve have introduced various changes in life, both personal and professional. ‘Work from home’ is the new reality for many. And also, the government and medical personnel recommended it for proper functioning of the economy while maintaining employees’ safety and health. All of a sudden, Zoom meetings are as important as our morning coffee. Are the days of early morning conference room briefings gone? They might not have completely disappeared forever, but we will see adaptation to this fairly new culture of working from home. Home is the new office. People are facing challenges – change, technology, dividing living space and work space, keeping up the spirit in this new work from home style. But slowly getting used to it, and treating it as another new normal.

Covid-19 has led both governments and businesses to find a way to function while minimising the spread of the virus. While restricting regular commute and travel for business, companies worldwide are focusing on how to derive most from their employees while asking them to stay away from workstations. Of course, some areas such as those involved in healthcare or manufacturing and production and other critical industries cannot embrace work from home. Most employees in other industries can be mandated to work remotely.

However, working from home does come with its unique set of challenges, as employees have to battle new distractions that they are not used to. Home is traditionally supposed to be a place of peace, love and family. Introducing a possible high-stress environment within the confines of what is our safe space is something we need to adapt to. It is a fusion of our work and private life. This is something both the employer and the employee have to understand, in order to successfully implement a remote work culture while maintaining sanity inside the residence.

This Covid-19 crises has shown that employees have the capacity to work from home, which might reduce the real estate need of commercial or office spaces. This will be a big test for us as to whether remote work can be a success and how to handle various situations when employees or leaders and employees. Learning to communicate from distance, managing employee tasks and client needs and meeting deadlines will be one of the many hurdles that one has to overcome while working remotely. Apart from this, personal distractions or responsibilities have to be balanced, for instance, caring for a dog or a child, technical issues because of lack of IT support, laptop fatigue, long period of sitting in non-ergonomic places, general lack of productivity which one might associate with being at an office.

Working from home does come with some positives such as less noise and air pollution, consumption of electricity, saving time on commute while being safe from the spread of the virus. Companies and leaders can pitch in too by promoting better work-life balance, encouraging employees to set up an organised workstation within the limits of their homes, encourage technology embracement and provide fast online support to network or technical issues that might cause halts in work. Further, using frequent breaks, exercise and walks can also bring down any fatigue developing among those working from home. Encouraging social calls within the office setup can also bring out better performance in a similar way competing peers bring out the best in each other. 

Leaders and managers also need to adapt to this change. And more often than that, it is how they fit in to the new normal is what will define the success of remote work. Managers have to be approachable and deal with crises in a proper manner through establishing trust and proper communication. They need to be positive and understand both the advantages and disadvantages of a particular situation; only then can they pass it on to those working in their team. Proper decisions taken at the correct time along with clear communication of instruction and collection of feedback can help improve productivity of the team as a whole. Emphasising on good company values and ethics which can be replicated within the confines of the home can only build a stronger workforce, which can remain efficient while maintaining social distancing. 

Of course, one cannot replicate the benefits which come with people being in close proximity with each other, bouncing ideas off each other as well as the collaborative effort which might be slightly compromised in remote work. However, we as humans have adapted so much over these last centuries; and necessity has made us build so many beautiful inventions; and I am sure we can make remote work a new normal and reinvent and purpose our work lives around it.

This is a time of deep uncertainty and disruption, but it is an opportunity to adapt to a new normal. Even in the Covid-19 aftermath, I believe we will see an increase in remote work, web conferencing and online meetings and slowly become comfortable with that type of technology. A flexible system that would allow people to work from home if needed will be normal too. 

Remote work requires a lot of discipline from the employees and managements. As the world focuses right now on the safety and health of employees, serving clients and helping communities, we will have to adapt. Some methods we can use to make things more comfortable and ease into this transition period are through balancing individual needs and collective goals. Try to develop a routine, schedule frequent break, communicate and express if you are finding things difficult, be available during working hours and switch off during post-work so that your two lives remain distinctly separate from each other. 

Remote work is here to stay; so, the sooner we start to understand it and create a corporate culture which nurtures this way of working, tackle the challenges thrown and move past the trial phase, the sooner we will be ready for the next chapter of what the job market and the economy will require of all of us. Balancing the interest of the company, the management and the individual while being connected only through a video link is something we have to look to quickly embrace, be comfortable with and prosper. This is the new normal.

(Dr Samanta is MP, Kandhamal, and founder, KIIT & KISS)

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