Covid19 has caused widespread disruption in the world of work. Millions have started working from home; and at the same time, employers in certain industry sectors cannot let the work shift to individuals’ homes. Factories, assembly lines, construction sites, theatres, travel and tourism industry, hospitality sector, healthcare, security, maintenance and repair and many such cannot move all their work to the homes of their employees. Many a time, due to confidentiality of data, employees cannot be allowed to access those without the necessary tools to monitor and control. There are employees who are not in a level of maturity to carry out work without frequent guidance and monitoring. It is clear that all kinds of work cannot be done remotely, yet there are many which can be. How can employers deal with these better?
Remote work has to be the norm
Employees fight the crowded roads, the polluted environment and pressing schedules of the day to travel to their respective workplaces. They would be happy if coming to work is not mandatory. With expensive real estates and escalating costs for managing an office facility, organisations will be happy if they can reduce the per-employee costs of office accommodation. So, remote-working is a no-brainer from a cost perspective.
Covid19 has forced remote work on us and many of us are learning a new way of getting work done. In most cases now, remote-working is the default option. If an organisation is disallowing people to work from home, there are serious questions being asked and they have to give reasons which find wide acceptance among their employees.
In this backdrop, we have to unshackle ourselves from the inertia of our old habits; embrace remote-working in a full-fledged manner and revise our HR policies. Organisations would adopt hot-desking, save costs and reduce pollution levels in our cities; employees could choose time slots and desks when they come to the workplace, breathe cleaner air and save a huge amount of the most precious resource, time which they can potentially use to pursue something more meaningful than commuting between work and home. We cannot have a better day than this!
Adapt to the new normal of a typical working day
Managers do not feel comfortable working with employees located remotely. Many of them feel distant from them; are not very conversant with monitoring and guiding such team members. They want to hold critical conversations in person across the table. Many of them do not have the wherewithal to let their team members collaborate and work together. At a deeper level, their trust on remote workers is low.
We cannot blame the managers for this incapability. They have never seen this in their lives; neither have they imagined this earlier. We have to intervene in the education institutes by asking them to adopt online education right from undergrad levels so that the men and women getting out of the colleges do not find work from home as something new.
In the organisations, we have to let the managers come together, discuss the reality and learn the best practices in embracing this new way of working. We have to use collaborative tools such as group chats, conference calls, video calls, and online applications which allow employees to share and co-create solutions. We have to continuously learn how to use the tools effectively.
We have to influence all our stakeholders like employees, business partners, suppliers and customers to accept the new way of getting things done. We see banks, public institutions and many other service-providers are informing their customers about reduced staff strength and encouraging them to use alternatives such as digital assistants and online tools. This is a good start for all of us to start new habits.
Managing the costs
As businesses are increasingly dealing with volatility and uncertainty, this is an opportunity for them to shift some of their fixed costs to variable model.
We already see many companies operate from co-working spaces to keep their housing options flexible and scalable, not get distracted by the administrative tasks and keep costs variable. We will see a decline in the headcount of permanent employees and an increase in contract employees and gig workers. There are innovative practices to make supply chain costs increasingly variable and in proportion to business volumes. We will see a substantial part of employee compensation moving towards variable pay. In India, typically, employees earn 90% of their total compensation as fixed salary which means, only 10% of the compensation reflects the impact delivered by the individual. This ratio of 90:10 will move towards 70:30 and maybe, 60:40 eventually.
This model of compensation brings the employee and her contribution to the foreground and asks the employee to own up the results much more directly. This recognises and reflects the freedom and independence given to an employee working remotely. The manager of a team continues to direct the team in the desired direction and provide coaching inputs to individuals as necessary. However, the individual employee is clearly asked to learn the best practices, walk the extra mile, deliver results and earn in proportion to the results produced.
Covid19 crisis presents us an opportunity to revamp our practices around managing our teams, running our daily routines and administering the costs differently.