Emotional disconnect in the virtual workplace
A news item struck my eye -“54% of employees in the UK are still reluctant to return to work”. Despite thousands of rupees spent on making the office “Covid secure”, is it really the fears of contracting Coronavirus alone, or is there any inertia factor preventing them from coming to the office? Many employers are screaming for stage by stage repopulation and return to work, giving priority to nearby residing employees. Depending on the nature of the function, some organizations adopted a complete work from home, the majority a hybrid model, yet some are still reimagining the operating model in this new normal. Reducing population density, enhancing existing safety measures like temperature checks, safe distancing, use of two-ply face masks, wearable devices ensuring 6 feet distancing, other measures mandated by the local government are all believed to make the office a safe place, welcoming back the employees.
Undoubtedly, employee health and safety remains the top priority for any business, but business objectives and quarterly results also matter. Holding daily check-ins and hosting virtual happy hours help strengthen the bonds, but can it really substitute face to face team bond? Technology acceleration across the organization helped all companies to rely on global talents for fragmented regions. Video connectivity can save travel costs and business infrastructure. But can the social disconnect and emotional disconnect be substituted fully by video connectivity? Can we weigh the effect of loss of informal face to face interaction and connections? When teams are inside the office, working together as one team will bridge the gaps, collaborating to break down the silos.
Besides this, many managers are not equipped or expert in managing the team virtually. Furthermore, HR should be tech-savvy, and innovative to manage and engage virtual teams. All agree that HR is an experience-driven function and not a process-driven function alone. Maintaining Company culture through virtual platforms is a challenge for any organization. We all agree that the “HUMAN” element is missing to a large extent in the work from home model.
“Can Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter replace our face to face interactions fully? Can you forego your home visits if you can video call your mother on WhatsApp every day? Can digital devices and platforms replace the workplace as such?” The answer to all these questions is a big “NO”. The emotional feel, communication through body language and gestures are all missing in the virtual world.
All the same, people are distracted by many priorities at home - the kids, kitchen, in-laws, guests, garden, pets, and so on. At least some agree that people are self-disciplined and able to focus more when they are in an office atmosphere.
For IT/BPO/KPO sectors, with increased flexibility, jobs will come to where people are. For them, it means access to diverse talent pools, women, global and local talents, etc. But one of the hardest hit segments from Covid-19 is the manufacturing sector. The intensity of the spread of COVID-19 and the lock-down brought the manufacturing facilities to a standstill, resulting in a downturn in economies. It is true that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the people and the authorities and employers had to keep people inside the home doors for a long time.
Not only in the manufacturing sector but also for many others, there is a place for office and workplace even now. To have undiverted focus and attention and for maximum productivity, organizations are weighing up a return to the workplace, hoping that everything will come back to track soon.