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Future of work

How Corona triggered the largest work-from-home experiment

By March 14, 2020 March 16th, 2020 No Comments
work from home

The novel coronavirus pandemic(COVID-19) has literally put a pause button on the world. With millions being affected by the pandemic, it’s no more ‘business as usual.’ The coronavirus has hit more than 80,000 people in China, causing a global breakdown of the supply of goods and materials. Countries like Italy has declared an emergency to fight off the coronavirus.

Amidst this turbulent global situation, multinational companies are facing a new challenge. Their employees are more suspectable to coronavirus exposure due to frequent overseas travel. Many of the technology giants are taking drastic steps towards reducing the risk for their employees.

On 10th March, Google has asked all their North American employees to work from home. Technology leaders like Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and SalesForce  have also urged their employees to work remotely from their homes.  JP Morgan, the second largest company in the world, has recently done a trial run for remote work. It asked thousands of employees to work from home to test their remote working capacity. These companies are taking every step to protect their employees from possible exposure as Twitter said in a recent statement,

“We are strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home if they’re able. Our goal is to lower the probability of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus for us, and the world around us.”

Twitter is not alone in sharing this concern. However, an important question that worries most of these companies is, “Are we remote ready?”

The current worldwide scenario is an unintentional test for remote readiness. Bloomberg calls it the world’s largest work from home experiment. However, the present situation is not awfully new for many companies. Ever since the 2008 recession, companies are moving towards a more efficient way of working. For example, many of them have let go of plush office spaces and opt for more efficient, low-cost working model. Some of them have also embraced coworking spaces to reduce costs.

In the past five years, there is a definite shift towards remote work. The new crisis of coronavirus has also shown the world that remote is the inevitable future of work. However, Much before the spread of coronavirus, the remote working trends had already started.

So, how are we doing in the remote-readiness test?

The coronavirus outbreak has posed an enormous challenge to retail chains like Walmart, and Home depot, food chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks, clothing, and fashion brands like Burberry. Most of the technology companies are holding up, thanks to the option of remote work. This huge remote-work experiment has several far-fetching effects that may last well beyond the corona pandemic.

  • Changing the mindsets of companies: It’s time to think differently for those companies who do not encourage working from remote. Many of them shy away from remote, due to infrastructure, security, and productivity reasons. However, now that the coronavirus has forced them to go remote, the mindset might slowly change. In the future, we could see more and more companies become remote-friendly.
  • Effects on the workforce: For millions of engineers across the globe, the remote-work exercise is one of its kind. It’s going to open up new horizons for them. Once they are ‘pass’ the remote work test for a few weeks, it might change their approach towards new jobs. For example, people will be more inclined towards applying for a job elsewhere in the globe.

Leadership and communication expert Joe Hirsh has the opinion that the coronavirus outbreak has the potential to shift the workplace dynamics.

Barbara Larson, Professor of Management, and Boston University, describes how employees might feel during this work from home experiment.

“It’s a good way to bond – it’s kind of weird, but everyone’s feeling weird, so it’s fun,” “It adds a little bit of levity and lightness to the otherwise difficult environment.”

Employees also have a mixed opinion about the new remote work situation. NPR, in a recent article, interviewed a few of them. According to Tristan Guyette, a manager in an NGO, remote work is excellent.

“For me, it’s a lot easier to work in silence,” “I also appreciate the fact that I can migrate from room to room if I’m not feeling super productive.”

Many more feel lucky to have the work from home option, that ensures the safety of them and their families.  One of the positive effects of this remote-work experiment is that it will help the organization and employees to get rid of their prejudices against remote work. At the same time, it will give them a reality check on where they stand in terms of remote readiness. So, the recent work from home experiments has both benefits and challenges.

Benefits

  • During these turbulent times, remote work is a big savior of business continuity. With many of the companies being remote-ready, a substantial economic disaster is prevented.
  • The option for remote-work has helped millions of employees around the world to stay safe during the epidemic. The tools for remote meetings have substantially reduced travel and the risks related to them.
  • The recent experiment with working from home will prompt organizations to assess their remote readiness, the gaps in their security systems, and their capability to scale.

Challenges

  • For a certain kind of companies, like marketing, advertisement, entertainment, where interaction is crucial, the working from home set up may not be efficient.
  • As Sara Sutton points out, for employees who have no prior experience of remote work, this could be a tough time. They might feel detached from the organization, and it could reduce productivity.
  • As most of the employees work remotely on the corporate network and use cloud-based information sharing, they are more susceptible to hackers.
  • For companies that are not remote-friendly, this is going to be a big challenge as they don’t have tight security procedures to handle such eavesdropping or information leak.
  • The infrastructure of WFH, like bandwidth in a residential complex, can also dampen the productivity of the employees.

Are we remote ready?

The past few weeks has been no doubt a test for not only businesses but the entire humanity. As far as tech organizations are concerned, it’s a crucial time for asking themselves a critical question. “Are we remote ready?”

There will be challenges in remote working, no doubt. But there are also solutions to these challenges.

Major Challenges for organizations

Challenge 1: Effective communication among the remote workforce

Solution: Use of proper tools for remote communication. Create an environment conducive to remote working. Encourage virtual meetings rather than email/texts.

Challenge 2: Employee Morale

Solution: Create a sense of community and enhance collaboration. Encourage frequent interactions over calls. Let employees meet even casually over virtual meetings. Celebrate various events virtually.

Challenge 3: Employee Productivity

Solution: Introduce tools for tracking work. Organize a ten-minute kick-off call at the beginning and end of the day. Recognize and share achievements.

Challenge 4: Infrastructure and security

Solution: For remote work, the company VPN needs to handle a large traffic. Testing and upgrading the hardware and software may be required. Also, tight security protocols for communications and document sharing should be in place.

Does it sound too difficult? Yes, there are initial hurdles to go remote-friendly or even remote-first. However, several companies have tried, tested, and succeed in remote work. They are more than happy to share their strategies for becoming a remote-first company.

Major Challenges for employees

Working from home or a remote location is not only challenging for organizations, but it also affects the workforce as well.

Challenge 1: Feeling disconnected from the office.

Solution: Be aware of the short term and long-term goals of the organization. Attend important company meetings and listen to leaders speaking about their vision. Cultivate an attitude of ownership.

Challenge 2: Working from home could create distractions

Solution: Have a space away from the domestic bustle. Have a routine for the work. Be precise about logging in and off work. Don’t try to multitask between domestic work and office work. Don’t take ad hoc breaks.

Challenge 3: Infrastructure issues like connectivity, good equipment, and workspace.

Solution: Seek help from your organization to set up a good network. Make sure your workspace is clean and efficient. Make full use of remote work allowances from the organization.

Key Takeaways

  • The recent coronavirus pandemic has been a unique chance for the organization to test its remote-readiness.
  • Many companies have risen up to the challenge and provided their employees with work from home options.
  • While there are challenges in working from home, the current global situation will undoubtedly change the mindset of organizations towards remote work.
  • Post the corona epidemic, the workplace dynamics might even change, when more companies sway towards remote-friendly.
  • Employees and organizations face a unique set of challenges in remote work. However, there are tried and tested solutions for each of them.
  • Remote is the future of work, especially in a global economy that is spread across continents.
Raghu Bharath

About Raghu Bharath

CEO by day, techie by night, Raghu is always ready to converse about technology, startups and how to make ideas go big.

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