Could the global COVID-19 pandemic be a beckoning call for employers to achieve remote working readiness? Or could it be a warning call for businesses to better prepare and respond swiftly to unexpected workplace disruptions? The latter seems to be the likely scenario, especially in India, where an unprecedented nation-wide lockdown of 21 days has sent businesses spiraling into uncharted territory.
Historically, India has always trailed behind western countries in achieving a remote work culture, and not for a lack of inclination from employees. A recent survey revealed that over one half of Indian workforce, 53%, stated that they would rather choose telecommuting, while a majority of the workforce, 61%, are seeking to achieve better work-life balance, less stress and lesser commute. Likewise, a study by global research firm IPSOS revealed that 57% Indian employees frequently telecommute and almost a third of them work remotely each day.
Telecommuting, gig-working or remote working has gained considerable traction with Indian employees, given the availability of advanced technology that enables the same kind of performance like it does in a brick and mortar business; and hiring managers are already predicting that remote work will be the way of the future. Essentially, employees no longer feel the need to be in an office setup to satisfy their KPIs and professional goals. And, India’s fast growing economy coupled with its young and digitally literate workforce and the availability of high-speed Internet, the country sits favorably a step closer to becoming a remote work hub.
So, how do you achieve remote working readiness to respond to potential disruptions, while also rethinking the workplace as a whole? Well, while working remotely, a business must operate within an entirely different set of rules as opposed to a traditional workplace. And, it is imperative for businesses to focus on skilling and preparing their employees to quickly adapt to remote working.
Transforming a traditional business to remote working can certainly be daunting as businesses won't have the luxury of starting all over again which would allow them to plan for a remote infrastructure.
Here are few smart steps that Indian businesses can take to achieve remote working readiness, in the short as well as long term, without impacting productivity and growth:
Accept the situation & move swiftly
A no-brainer for businesses in today’s dog-eat-dog markets, businesses must quickly come to terms with the present situation, do what they need to analyze it and make swift decisions to adopt an effective remote working strategy. Simply ignoring the situation and hoping it goes away cannot be a strategy. Until the unfathomable force of our combined willpowers subdues the deadly virus spread, we are better off doing what we do best – plan and execute. Plan as if there is no hope and execute in ways that helps you remain operational, be it asking as many employees to work remotely. Gather information on what is needed to make this happen and rally leadership and client-facing employees from all functions, including HR, managers, IT, communications, and others.
Assess and improve IT availability (hardware & software)
In a country like India, where critical governance decisions pertaining to the pandemic happen overnight, this step proves to be extremely critical and a make-or-break for any business. Start by inventorying IT availability, be it laptops, licensed software, communication tools etc. While physically testing employees’ comfort level on certain applications, including critical communication/ messaging tools can be daunting, it is key to offer some kind of training to address gaps, because a client-facing team with the lack of know-how can be a real reputation-killer in real-time. Inventory company-owned devices that could be lent to employees or establish clear and effective BYOD guidelines that don’t break any data privacy regulations.
Leverage the Cloud to centralize your business
Today, data is the most valuable commodity for any business on the planet. While transitioning to a remote work environment, businesses will need a clear and effective data retention and protection plan and having all your data organized centrally for all teams to access. While the Cloud is a must-have for any business, getting critical data on to the Cloud (if not already) in time can be a pressing challenge. So, for businesses waiting to host their software, tech products, proprietary information on the cloud, now is that time. In addition, leverage cloud-based platforms, including CRMs, HRMS, LMS etc. that can be accessed anywhere, anytime and on any device, giving the remote workforce access to important information, files, while also engaging with each other.
Set clear remote working guidelines & expectations
A sudden transition to remote working can be challenging for any business, especially if there are no remote working guidelines in place for any employee historically. The sudden change in environment can certainly hamper engagement and productivity. The very first step to creating an effective remote work strategy is to specify the company’s policy on remote working and clarify rules that need to be followed. Tracking employees in a remote environment can be a nagging challenge for HR pros, and calls for clear guidelines around work hours and accountability.
Address the workforce & subdue panic
Lastly, while you address remote work transition challenges, it is highly imperative for businesses to address the employees, answer key questions, offer support and help subdue the panic caused, not just by the pandemic alone, but also the sudden disruption in their work life. Make available pandemic awareness information and videos, leverage your partnerships to share important healthcare and hygiene related knowledge, and above all, communicate a message of solidarity with the employees and create a sense of reassurance that will ease their panic and help them work normally.
This is not the first time the entire business world has been shook by a healthcare emergency, neither will it be the last time. Global pandemics like today’s Covid-19 are no less than a curse, and mankind will continue to brave such emergencies and emerge, if not unscathed, but surely learned on the other side.
Stay home. Stay safe!