Working from home post-COVID: Cope or Scope?
The global work scenario has drastically changed due to the current turbulent times spawned by the pandemic. Work-from-home (WFH) was the most apparent alternative most global employers chose for continuation of work. There is a high consensus to the fact that the lockdown has taught us lessons for life, has shook us up to realize what is supremely important for us and taught us to value people and resources around us. Along with fostering this humane side, it has also made us realize what skill sets we possess to perform well in the WFH setting and which skills we still need to acquire. Skills, commonly, are understood in a constrained way - as abilities to perform tasks effectively. The changes in the global workforce calls for a sharp focus on competencies required to manage ourselves and our work efficiently. Competencies contain skills and further encompass other essential components for effective performance. A competency is one’s ability to perform not only in normal, known, predictable situations but also in uncertain, unknown, unpredictable situations. Competencies are an amalgamation of knowledge, skills, motivation, values and attitude.
There is timely evidence that WFH has obvious benefits. If WFH is here to stay for long, employees might as well embrace this change positively and know how to adapt to it. For India the story is no different! Recently, to succeed with WFH, some critical competencies have been recommended - communication, discipline, motivation, trustworthiness, adaptability seem to be most relevant. It is pivotal for employees and employers worldwide to reflect which competencies are vital for effective use of WFH. The ‘SCOPE’ competencies (Self-management, Communication skills, Openness to change, Planning behavior, Expert knowledge, Energy) shall facilitate efficient work performance of employees while working from home. SCOPE-competencies can be broadly applied to almost all kinds of industry sectors opting for WFH option.
Self-management - involves knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses to manage one’s emotions and organize oneself in a way that one can act appropriate to the situation. It also involves determination, optimism, diligence and empathy. WFH requires a higher level of emotional regulation as conflict may arise due to clashes between work and family responsibilities. It further requires discipline to follow work schedules in spite of the interference caused by e.g. household responsibilities, managing familial relations, lack of a sound digital infrastructure at home and so on.
Communicative skills - involves ability to express oneself appropriately using various forms - oral, written, in-person and virtual. It contains active-listening, eloquence, sociability and persuasive power especially relevant for remote working. It includes the ability to connect with all stakeholders at work and in non-work lives. WFH largely restricts itself to face-to-face interactions (video calls in many cases); demanding clear, prompt, succinct communication as a key competency for effective remote work performance.
Openness to changes - involves willingness and deliberation to face unknown situations along with a stable psychological state to deal with the changes positively. It includes understanding the change and ability to adapt to the change. Considering the changed workstyle and combating the forced home confinement (specifically due to the pandemic), this competency is crucial to deal with multiple hurdles like extended work-timing at home, intermittent internet connection issues at home compared to workplace and low motivation due to boredom. The major hurdle is the restriction on leisure activities; which reinforce recovery experiences (the relaxed feeling you get during a holiday or after mountain trekking!) that buffer the stressful experiences from work and non-work lives. Being open to change leads to accepting the change and finally embracing the change and adapting oneself to the changed environment.
Planning behavior - is the ability to sense deficiencies in one’s work area or method of working, the ability to restructure tasks; while estimating the amount of time and efforts it requires to accomplish a task and finally using these abilities appropriately to achieve specific, realistic and measurable goals. Time management and prioritization of tasks, evidently, contribute positively to completion of tasks on a daily and weekly basis; especially it helps reduce the burden of office work and household work. One will be able to allocate devoted time to activities planned in a day or in a week. There is a pressing need to assess the changes in planning as the work-styles across the globe have undergone changes and one should be prepared for restructured and revised business targets to be achieved in the coming years to cope with the global economic grief.
Expert knowledge & Energy - Expert knowledge and its effective use will depend on the digital literacy of employees across diverse work areas; hence digital literacy training is imperative. Opportunities to enhance expert knowledge through webinars, online courses/certifications will be valuable for employees. Energy or drive relates to all components of the competency definition: knowledge - skills - motivation - values - attitude. The legendary working trend ‘work with high energy’ is a myth and not applicable in the changed circumstances. We need to work on a ‘power-saving’ mode. Understanding which task requires how much energy and whether engaging in the task would actually lead one to the planned (changed) goal is crucial. Allotting optimum energy to planned tasks is essential so that energy is well distributed across multiple activities throughout the day and week.
Employers across the globe should incorporate pertinent measures to enhance ‘SCOPE’-competencies if WFH is to be implemented for long. SCOPE-Competencies shall help employees cope with the WFH and enhance work performance with minimal distress. Work cultures in developing nations demand substantial social interaction, this being more or less true for developed nations as well. Along with the work-related deficiencies and digital hardships, employers must consider that their work force could be experiencing socio-emotional deficiency battling boredom, social distancing, stress, limited access to resources, work-overload, changing levels of work motivation, juggling work-family issues due to WFH. Some organizations ramp up to upgrade their workforce and provide them facilities and benefits in order to enhance the work experience in these unparalleled times. This should be the norm for all employers!
Governments across the globe are providing great support to industries grappling with economic issues of their businesses. A mentally healthy and competent workforce will further aid in resolving economic issues; therefore it would help immensely if all employers create a response team that performs a brisk socio-emotional gap-analysis using the SCOPE-Competencies. This will ensure optimum performance and a smooth implementation of WFH option in the current situation and later on for transition from WFH to on-site work. Matters concerning employee well-being have been a focus at least for some companies and further competency development themes shall emerge from recommended gap analysis. A digital platform for competency development coaching sessions, motivational speeches, out of the box activities involving art and creativity to boost the employees’ spirit is the need of the hour. Investing in such online employee coaching sessions will have long term benefits for employers and employees along with its current function of keeping the ‘spirit-up’ during the unprecedented times. Should global employers rethink a competency revamp for their employees, rather than blindly following the WFH trend? Would competency assessment and systematic development of specific competencies empower employees and ultimately the employers? Enhancing SCOPE-Competencies could be one of the answers to these questions!
*Views expressed are personal. Dr. Shalaka Shah is an Assistant Professor for Psychology at FLAME University Pune.