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‘Work from home trends from 2020 are here to stay’

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Guest Column: Priyanka Agrawal, Co-founder, COO and Chief Strategy Officer, Fractal Ink Design Studio – Linked by Isobar, highlights how businesses have adapted to the new ways of working

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented change of pace in the professional workplace. Led by technology, this is going to get faster, so fasten your seatbelts. Digital has been transforming our work for years now, but the past few months have made it clear that what might have been a five-year journey will be compressed into months. We are and will be living the future faster than we expected in the coming days.

While being enormously disruptive and unpredictable, crises also invariably nurture the emergence of great common purpose, creativity, and improvisation. As businesses have adapted to the new ways of working, here’s a reflection on the mindset shifts that are here to stay.

People and trust must come first

This is a moment when leaders can take a step back and think of learning about their employees’ values, interests, strengths and motivations.

Businesses that are concerned about employees playing truant can deploy monitoring mechanisms to discover data on who logged in and logged out, when and for how long. But HR and managers have found it more comfortable than expected to maintain and manage output-driven productivity matrix.

Surprise! Work from home is working

Quality of life is of prime importance, and people are realising the benefits of easing into a chair, wearing shorts with a coffee in hand to begin the workday rather than swearing and cursing at traffic lights, pedestrians, taxi drivers for hours every day. They can rest better, spend quality time with family and take care of their health.

Driven by an increased level of comfort with remote work tools and processes, an increased level of concern over health risks, or a combination of both, employees today seem to be more reluctant to go back to the usual office environment. There is also a popular belief that productivity has increased in work from home scenarios. They are, therefore, keen to continue this practice, whether full-time or partial office/ WFH arrangement.

Businesses are considering options such as “cohorts” of workers who work together in self-contained groups to come together on a need-to-meet basis.

This kind of flexibility might have been considered more of an employee benefit in the past, but the pandemic has made these working practices essential. For businesses that don’t see any significant downsides from this arrangement, this can become a part of their DNA.

Mental health to the forefront

Work from home practices had some mixed reactions. Some thrived, few complained, some struggled. People who struggled showed signs of anxiety, depression and overall mental health deterioration. But the positive in this was that the stigma around mental health and how to cope with it shredded in the wake of the new normal.

Leaders realised how important it is to take care of the mental health of the employees, and a new trend of having accessible mental health experts on the team emerged. Open discussions and team huddles to identify early markers of depression and anxiety came to the forefront a couple of months in the lockdown. We saw, experts and leaders, addressing this issue on open forums and normalising it.

Workforce diversification

Talent is being unlocked in a new way. The geographical boundaries no longer hold true and talent can be accessed from different locations. A workforce that does not need to come to an office every day. Operations can run from anytime and where.

Companies need to hire and now they’re doing it virtually. The competition for talent is fiercer than ever. Earlier, groups of talent that were unwilling to relocate to the employer’s location were not even in the consideration list. Now, the dynamics change, with careful evaluation and definition of the roles and clear categorisation of the fulfilment that can happen fully remote/hybrid or remote/ fully onsite. Fully remote and hybrid remote job roles can be hired from anywhere in the world, which opens up enormous possibilities for companies to hire effectively and even more cost-efficiently.

Also, women just won back 2-3 years of work life. With flexible hours and need-basis commute, more employers are enabling the immense talent that used to fall out in the phase of life when they had young children.

Indeed, with so many positives, there are bound to be some negatives as well.

Retaining talent will become more difficult

When the above becomes true and the full-remote status of jobs becomes mainstream, companies may search nationally or even internationally for new hires, WFH opens up hundreds of more employment opportunities for aspirers.

One of the critical factors of people being loyal to a particular organisation was social interaction between colleagues. So, if these social interactions were to reduce, company loyalty is likely to wane and retaining talent will become all the more challenging.

Work culture will be harder to establish

Building an upbeat work culture—one that unites and energises a team around a shared goal—will be more challenging to do in the WFH scenario. And this connects to retaining talent too, and good workplace culture is more important to some employees than salary.

Establishing a healthy work culture will have to be reimagined in today’s times where most interactions are happening via a screen. Strong communication and interaction strategies will be absolutely crucial to keeping remote workers feeling central, rather than peripheral, to a company’s vision.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

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Priyanka Agarwal

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