The disruption caused by the pandemic’s initial first wave across the world last year was never hitherto expected—both the governments and business communities were caught flatfooted with lockdown measures meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But with the passing of time, people were able to adjust appropriately. In the world of human resource management, a new mantra was born: work from home (WFH).
There were issues and difficulties.
For one, and as the Geneva-based UN agency International Labour Organization (ILO) pointed out, companies with WFH arrangements were concerned about productivity from two angles – employers were wondering whether their employees were working at all, while others were concerned whether theirs were working efficiently?
The ILO recommended that as a matter of objective measurement, five elements need to be considered in assessing remote workers’ productivity.
- Setting and communicating clear goals and deadlines in the same way with workers in a physical workspace.
- Forming plans to increase accountability.
- Analysing important tasks and tracking progress on a time-bound basis.
- Evaluating quality and quantity instead of time worked – shift the metrics to "tasks accomplished and their quality" versus “hours spent".
- Tracking achievements.
- One shining bright side to this is the creation of virtual meetings where employees, who once did not have a voice, were suddenly on the table attending Zoom sessions and getting heard by everyone, experts say.
Human Resource professionals maintain that where, at the height of lockdowns and in the initial stages of WFH arrangements, most employees “dabbled” during virtual meetings, a year later they were airing concerns about “Zoom fatigue.”
But, HR officials argued, virtual meetings, in a manner of speaking, levelled the playing field and put everyone on equal footing because everybody suddenly got a seat and a voice.
Working from home indeed had its share of the birth pains but most companies were quick to adjust while others had to go through curves.
According to the ILO, a survey conducted in March 2020 of 250 large firms in Argentina found that 93% had adopted teleworking as a policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ILO also noted that the Mumbai-based Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a leading global IT services, consulting and business solutions organization, which in 2018 has been recognized as one of the Middle East’s best places to work by independent HR body the Top Employer Institute for the third consecutive year, reported that around 85% of its 400,000 employees in India and elsewhere in the world, including in Dubai, were working from home as a result of lockdowns.
But while there were companies which swiftly got in line with WFH procedures, others have had difficulties.
In Japan, a survey conducted prior to the April 7, 2020 announcement of a state of emergency revealed that while 96% of respondents agreed with the importance of WFH or working remotely, 31% of companies were unable to adopt this form of working because paperwork was not digitalized and the required internal rules and procedures for teleworking were not ready.
There also were concerns that the confidentiality of information could result to security breaches and in turn limit working from home.
Meantime, and again from the HR perspective, WFH has pushed online learning to the frontlines whereas it used to take the backseat prior to the pandemic. And so everybody was on webinars because WFM requires continuous skills training just as onsite working did.
HR experts suggest that companies start transforming trainings into digital sessions, including teambuilding exercises.
In the area of balance work and life, there were widespread issues during the early days of WFH that doing so felt more like sleeping while at work – the homey ambiance as well as pyjamas contributing to the idleness.
To address this, HR officers were encouraged to train and educate employees working from home on the values of healthy work-life balance, including keeping regular schedules. This, also in the context that the near future sees an environment where people can work from anywhere due to the digital revolution.
Another issue that HR people have had to tackle was that WFH have resulted to longer working hours as there was nothing much to do at home and so employees stayed glued on their job while, on the other hand, home responsibilities including laundry and washing dishes piled up.
Working from home has also caused employees to lose the self-care they have working on site – no lunch break, sports and so on.
Perhaps the most important learning experience brought about by WFH is communication, where never before had employers and employees been in constant communication than during the pandemic.
Using messaging apps, email and video to communicate, HR officers and supervisors do not anymore have that leeway to talk to employees in the hallway or arrange a quick “alignment meeting” as had been during the pre-pandemic days.
All things considered, it is an entirely different set-up now and HR authorities have been quick to respond.