Expert Opinion: Home-bound or office-bound after COVID-19, what will your choice be?

Posted on July 24, 2020

As human beings, we are creatures of habit, and most often we are comfortable doing things which are familiar to us. Before COVID-19, most of us were part of the rat race, industrialisation, and endless traffic. We had little to no regard about the unintended consequences our work life had on our psychological, emotional, and overall well-being. It was normal for employees to start commuting in the early hours of the morning, only to return home with the last rays of sunshine lighting the way, spending a mere hour with family and or children, only to repeat it all the next day.

Working remotely is not a new concept. Some companies embraced this approach long before the COVID-19 crisis. However, it was not widely popular, and many have asked why that is. Other than restrictions which required some jobs to be conducted on-site, and challenges with access to the electronic tools and equipment necessary to efficiently work from home, one would often hear of a manager wanting to ‘see’ people working or having a strong belief that time spent by employees at their desks equalled productivity. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, and the lockdown was announced by our president, some of us were forced to work from home. Organisations had to move rapidly to ensure employees had the necessary resources at their disposal to efficiently complete their work responsibilities remotely. Those managers who were fond of checking-up on their employees in the office, believed productivity would cease. However, to their surprise, productivity increased. A lot of other benefits were discovered as a result of employees working remotely.

Here are five benefits COVID-19 taught us about working remotely:

  • Change in the focus of work. In other words, delivering work of a higher quality rather than focusing on the quantity of work. This leads to a higher productivity and a better job output.
  • Flexibility in terms of when and how one works provides more space for creative and innovative thinking.
  • Less office space is needed. Instead, offices can be used for other high-level work and more connection and engagement.
  • Working remotely results in less accidents during commuting, as well as less road-rage and traffic.
  • More quality time spent with families.

Of course, we cannot ignore how working remotely affected the way we connected, engaged, and interacted. One element that is difficult to replicate virtually, is the way we solved problems and challenges together in a room, bouncing off the energy of others. We are social beings after all. This crisis forced us to look at how we can recapture that element in a new, fresh, and innovative way.

Apart from that, the question remains, given the benefits of working remotely that are mentioned above, once lockdown is over will organisations adopt some of the successful practices learned during this time, or will some revert back to pre-COVID-19 work habits?

Here are nine tips to consider when creating a healthy, flexible work environment:

  • Give employees the power of choice on where, when, and how to conduct their work.
  • Manage output rather than input.
  • Have clear KPIs and deliverables.
  • Provide the tools and support needed to work remotely.
  • Create key ‘connection moments’ to ensure an elevated level of engagement.
  • Save on office space and have more connection space.
  • Don’t micromanage employees when they are working remotely. Have key touchpoints, and then allow them time to reach their work goals.
  • Have a remote-working policy with clear guidelines in line with the culture you are building.
  • Have a code of conduct which includes boundaries. Agree on core business hours and don’t bother employees during downtime.

What will your company’s approach be once the crisis has passed? You need to start thinking about that now. Will your employees be home-bound, office-bound, or a blend of both? Your choice, after all, may influence your employee well-being and productivity in the long term.

Madelé Klingenberg is the Head of Human Capital: Momentum Life Service at Momentum Metropolitan. She is an Advisory Board member and a part-time lecturer at the Department of Human Resource Management, University of Pretoria.

- Author Madelé Klingenberg

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