Over the past few months, remote work went from being an experiment or an expectation, to an essential requirement across most industries, with about 88 percent of global organizations, according to analysts, having encouraged or required employees to work from home since March 2020. The global trend is also mirrored across the Asia Pacific, with at least 73 percent of companies based in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta reluctant to return to their offices.
The sobering reality is that today's rapid shift to working from home has given rise to a number of often-overlooked IT challenges. What are these and how can we tackle them?
A recent study, which we did together with research institute OnePoll, has shown that despite some initial hiccups with bedrooms needing to become offices and kids and pets crashing virtual meetings, the majority of workers are managing to remain productive and engaged. In fact, 70 percent of employees polled shared their productivity levels are the same or even higher when working in the office.
And it is these encouraging numbers that raise the questions – will working from home arrangements rise in popularity post-crisis, and what are the considerations that employers must take into account to enable people to be engaged and productive in the environments of their choosing?
Consider technology first
The sobering reality is that today’s rapid shift to working from home has given rise to a number of often-overlooked IT challenges. Home broadband and WiFi connectivity seems to be the biggest issue, and already we have seen a recent trend of home Internet outages in Singapore, which have highlighted the importance of reliable, always-on connectivity. Internet disruptions do not just curtail the after-work evening binge of streaming television, but are now impacting the working experience of employees in the stay home period. Additionally, juggling the use of multiple conference call services, the lack of adequate access to enterprise apps to get work done and dealing with slow, choppy VPN connections can further affect the remote working experience.
Another challenge with the rapid shift to go remote is that sometimes companies may deprioritize security in certain areas over ramping up the ability to quickly get back to normal working. The situation has forced employers to rapidly bring various IT platorms together to fast-track remote working, with an inflated reliance on the connectivity of home networks, which tend to have more relaxed security levels compared to their enterprise counterparts. When most of the company’s resources are now sitting outside of the secure networks, there are legitimate concerns raised that employees are being exposed to a wider range of cyber threats.
We are now also seeing people freely discuss sensitive and private data from home, meaning that proven hygiene and security practices might be the last thing on employees’ minds.
Much more can be done to focus on appropriate usage of resources over simply providing remote access. Organizations will need to have flexible and secure digital workspaces that leverage the automation, scale, and ubiquity of the cloud as the foundation of the business model, and allow employees the flexibility to work from anywhere that is demanded by the existing unpredictability, all while keeping organizational data secure.
Why IT and HR both drive the work experience
The blurring of the home and the office have caught many off guard, even those used to remote working. While a few workers may already have a home office set up, most employees are finding themselves unprepared to share their work environment with a variety of other household needs, such as constant distractions from spouses, children and even pets. This unprecedented blending of work and personal life is also bringing with it some unwelcome anxieties. The OnePoll results showed that 36 percent of workers have felt overwhelmed as a result of working from home due to the pandemic. A further 30 percent say they have been unable to focus due to the number of people in the house, and 28 percent are feeling lonely.
As humans are social beings by nature, managing the well-being and personal lives of staff being forced to stay at home needs to be carefully considered. The lack of access to usual human interaction at the workplace, during prolonged remote working, may affect an employee’s emotional state, and employers have to acknowledge that the current work from home situation is not normal for most people.
We are also observing a rise in videoconferencing fatigue and remote working burnout. Since commuting and travel routines have basically been eliminated, and with the workday starting as soon as we get out of bed, gone are the usual 9 AM to 5PM workdays. Employers will now need to reassess what productivity really means in the new normal. For example, can we use the time saved on commuting and travel to achieve the same – or even better outcomes – whilst reducing costs, minimizing carbon footprints, and delivering stronger work-life balance?
The massive shift to remote working means people tend to be “always on” now and responding to work notifications for long periods from home, and consequently working longer hours. Research conducted by Quartz has indicated that the constant pings from colleagues and perpetually switching between apps and systems to respond, is driving about two-thirds of workers to experience burnout, and feeling that their health and wellbeing is being negatively impacted.
Fortunately, these consequences can be avoided or overcome if the right mix of HR and technology is implemented, such as rolling out policies that promote work-life balance and hosting informal virtual coffee chat sessions alongside carefully selected technology that will add value to the employee by scheduling blocking times, silencing notifications and automating administrative tasks. These practices encourage employees to create clear boundaries built into the day.
Driving positive remote working experiences will hence be about maintaining a delicate balance: enabling people to work from the safety of their homes using the software and devices of their choice, without sacrificing the security of corporate systems and data, while juggling personal lives.
Remote experiences will continue to be the new normal
If there is one thing that will define the workplace of the post pandemic future, it will be about empowering employees to expect greater flexibility and opportunities.
Organizations are therefore likely to continue to embrace flexible work models and maintain remote work programs for the long haul. After all, we are already seeing the positive impact remote working can have on employee productivity, work-life balance and mental health. Yet employers also need to be able to show consistent empathy to allow staff to feel good and motivate them to deliver their best. It is important for employees to know that they have the support from their leaders and colleagues to live a balanced life despite the new normal.
The focus of employers now should therefore be to shift from simply maintaining business continuity, to using the disruption as an opportunity to scale the workforce efficiency coupled with a great remote work experience.
Having the right technology, well-thought-out processes and richer communications, will be essential in providing people with work experiences that encourage them to do what they love best without any friction, and ultimately drive success in a post-COVID-19 world.