With COVID-19 pandemic bringing a sizeable portion of the world under partial or complete lockdown, work from home (WFH) has emerged as a hot topic of discussion. #WFH is a visible hashtag on social media these days but it is not a new concept. With advances in technology, organisations have been exploring WFH, especially around the future of work, employee engagement, etc. In many companies, flexible work and work from home were becoming part of policy discussions. But what has changed today in light of COVID-19?
In the past, when WFH was framed primarily as a choice, incentive, or convenience for target groups, it is now being explored as a more sustainable option. If designed well, it has many benefits, including protecting health, economy, and the environment. But in designing WFH, ramping up the infrastructure for virtual work like tools for digital collaboration, data security and connectivity are only a part. Influencing the attitude and behavior of people towards WFH plays a much more significant role.
People today are adapting to WFH, voluntarily or due to mandatory restrictions, irrespective of their past opinion about it. People are practicing WFH, social distancing, frequent sanitizing, and wearing masks. In fact, in the foreseeable future, the mask may become a mandatory accessory just like mobile phones. Organisations will hope these habits are for good, but they can’t rely only on that. There is a need for policies and practices around WFH that can help employees adapt to it in the immediate, middle and long term.
As COVID-19 has resulted in the world’s biggest working from home experiment in history, there are dramatic cultural variations that can be observed as to how this is working around the world.
Take India for an example, where the idea of working other than in a centralised office is not seen as the way work is done. A traditional top-down management style prevails within the workplace. Whereas within Northern Europe and much of North America, remote working is perfectly acceptable.
In India, some employees feel under ad-hoc surveillance with managers demanding that workers clock in and out, wanting regular check-in meetings to make sure staffs are not shirking responsibilities. The downside for employees is such extra meetings which are cutting into their productivity. Understandably, Indian workers have mixed reactions to working from home.
Digital Workplace Tools
Alongside adapting to working from home, there are variations in how different cultures use their intranet. Asians, especially Indians and Japanese employees are less familiar with collaborative working because they operate in more competitive work cultures. So, the idea of using digital workplace tools to share and collaborate is probably more alien to them than, say, North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The emerging picture of remote workers around the world may not be as simplistic as it first appears. Even within different cultures there are variations to how successful remote working is for both organisations and employees. Fundamentally, the differences lie in sectoral, regional and demographic disparities as much as cultural.
What the current crisis has done is reveal to cultures, that though working remotely was an impossible task, it can work.
Moving forward the key word in the workplace seems to be flexibility. It’s about the absence of limitations on how you work and where you work. What will probably emerge from this pandemic is that a hybrid working environment is best where there is a mix of office work and home working, wherever you are in the world.
At PECS, we tend to complete our tasks irrespective of where we work from. To us adhering to deadlines with effective output is what matters at the end of the day.