COVID-19 is forcing business leaders to rethink the way their organizations operate. As more employees are required to work from home, we look at the potential effects of this enforced restructuring and consider ways to mitigate their impact on productivity.
Remote working has been an unavoidable response to COVID-19. The transition from office to home was swift and surprisingly efficient. In March 2020, even before the full effects of the pandemic had been felt across the U.S., 88% of organizations had already asked employees to work from home. In the UK, 49% of employees were working from home by June and, in Switzerland, the number of people homeworking doubled – about 50% of the employed and self-employed workforce.
Although undeniably traumatic for many businesses, the move to remote working has not been an insurmountable obstacle. Many organizations already had the necessary systems in place to facilitate remote working, even if they were not being fully utilized. This was because, in the last decade, more and more people have chosen to work from home, as companies began to introduce flexible workplace models.
As the pandemic lessens its grip in some parts of the world, there will inevitably be a return to working in offices. This is especially true in countries like Japan, where the employment infrastructure is not really set up for homeworking, although some corporations are continuing to encourage it.
We can assume, however, that a reduced number of people will return to the office full-time after the current crisis. This continues a trend that was already in motion. For example, in Switzerland, 25% of people worked remotely at the start of the year. This follows several years of steady increase. However, it is predicted around 34% of the workforce will continue to work from home at least once a week after the pandemic.
There are several advantages to promoting remote working practices. These include less office space, less commuting, fewer business trips, greater focus from employees, and more flexibility to allow organizations to respond to crises like COVID-19.
There are also several challenges associated with long term remote working. To successfully migrate to remote working, business leaders need to carefully structure their transition, consider the security of their systems, and ensure their employees maintained good work/life balances. Many employees reported that they initially struggled to adapt to the new arrangements. They missed face-to-face collaboration, which led to slower and less efficient processes and methods of communication. If these outcomes are allowed to continue unchecked, they will hinder operational speed and productivity.
Loss in productivity is not an inevitable result of homeworking. The Swiss data shows that 72% of homeworkers felt that they were either ‘equally productive’, ‘a bit more productive’, or ‘much more productive’ when working from home.
Business leaders must respond proactively to counteract the impact of COVID-19. They must clearly define the reason for homeworking and to simply say, “avoid COVID-19,” is not good. That is a nebulous and ill-defined aim that lacks positive purpose. Instead, managers should focus on the advantages of remote working – optimized commuting, less expenditure on office space, etc. Against this, they also been to ensure the essential structures of the organization remain strong.
One way to achieve this is to restart training programs for employees. Training was one of the earliest and hardest hit of business activities. One study found that in North America around 50% of in-person programs were cancelled in the first few months of the pandemic, while in Asia and Europe the figure was closer to 100%. While this initial response to COVID-19 was understandable, businesses cannot afford to let it continue otherwise productivity will be reduced, which will impact the bottom line.
Actively engaging in a program of continuous employee development has other advantages in relation to helping businesses overcome the problems associated with remote working. Firstly, it makes employees feel valued and it gives them the opportunity to participate in collaborative work, an experience they may be missing by not being in an office. Secondly, the organization can fill any knowledge gaps they may have identified – for example, lack of training in remote working systems or online communication etiquette. Developing an employee’s skills in this way will also significantly contribute towards better emotional and mental well-being. Finally, businesses that establish a training program that expands the skills capabilities within the organization will find they are better positioned to navigate today’s complex and highly competitive markets.
Currently, travel restrictions and concerning over face-to-face meetings make some training opens difficult or impossible. Many organizations are therefore turning toward remote learning solutions to overcome these barriers. These provide the employer with the perfect apparatus to help develop an employee without endangering their health or the operational integrity of the business.
SGS Academy has proactivity responded to the current crisis in a number of ways. In recent months, we have expanded our global training solutions to include more virtual live learning experiences. These are designed to not only enable the organization to achieve their goals, but they will also help to make the learner feel valued and therefore making them more productive.
Learn about SGS Global Training Solutions.