Topsy-turvy! That’s what comes to the mind when one thinks about how the pandemic has reshaped the way organizations function.
In a true testament to their synergy, the WFH scenario has brought up some amazing insights into what organizations and employees can accomplish together, even in the midst of a raging pandemic. It is commendable how they have been able to navigate through these unprecedented times and have continued to add new meaning and value to their operations.
That said, the shift to a virtual working mode has been rife with its own challenges. Not only has the nature of work changed a lot and work management has been difficult, but ‘humanisation’ in organizations has suffered a lot. Internet fatigue has set in, social relationships have suffered, employees have joined their employers without meeting their new teams and colleagues, and employees have left their organizations in the virtual mode as well.
Tough as it may sound, research insights provided by organizations such as Gartner(Gartner, 2020) and PwC (PwC, 2021)suggest that the WFH situation is here to stay and employees are inclined towards working from home for at least 2 days in a week, even when the pandemic is over. However, some organizations are now moving towards, what they call, a hybrid work model – where they would continue their operations from their physical workspaces as well as through remote settings. Apart from the term being snazzy, what makes a hybrid work model sound interesting is what the shift to a mixed operational model may mean for organizations and their employees and what considerations organizations would have to keep in mind when making this shift. Here are a few of them:
Assessing the need of asking employees to return to work at all
Before the pandemic hit us all in its full force, most companies operated from offices and only few organizations had a work-from-home policy. However, given that it has been more than 12 months since WFH started, it makes one question the long-held belief that employees are most productive when they work from offices. Save sectors which need physical presence, such as construction, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality etc., the pandemic has made organizations realise that it is possible to operate productively in the virtual mode as well.
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The advantages of the WFH mode of working, such as lower pollution and traffic on streets, employees’ convenience and better work life balance (for some employees) have also been well spoken of. Not to mention, the very fact that a lot many employees are the primary caregivers in their families. With schools and creche’s also being physically inoperative currently, work life balance would become hugely affected. Add to this, the added advantage of reduced facilities and amenities cost for organizations. Considering these, it will be pertinent to question the need of getting employees back to office at all.
Well-being of employees
The pandemic seems far from over. For most employers, the health and well-being of employees takes forefront and will continue to do so for the coming time as well. It will be important to see how getting employees back to workplace will affect their health and safety.
One dimension to consider may be the vaccination status of employees. Several organizations have conducted vaccination drives for their employees and their families. However, there still are sections of the population, even in the urban areas, who are skeptical about the need, effectiveness, and side effects of these jabs. Even then, will it be in the hands of employers to get their employees to take the vaccinations before they announce the back to workplace policy?
Designing of the hybrid workplace model
From a policy perspective, this may, by far, be the most important consideration. Some critical aspects that will need careful thought are:
- Which are the groups/roles that can continue to work virtually and the ones that are, most definitely, needed to get back to work?
- How many employees should be deployed in physical workplace at a time?
- Should there be a fixed quota of days when one can avail the option of working from home, if yes, then should employees be given a choice to select those days?
- How flexible will these WFH provisions be, considering that family arrangements have also been greatly affected by the WFH mode of working, especially for women.
The other side of this story belongs to those employees who feel burned out due to the pandemic and may want to get back to their old routines, given an opportunity.
A survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that with the blurring of boundaries between work and home and doubled workloads on both work and domestic fronts, the pandemic has caused stress and burn out of employees (American Psychological Association, 2020).
Not only these, but the over-arching effects of such decisions should also be considered.
- For instance, will group and team dynamics, collaboration and productivity synergy get affected when some team members are in the workplace while others are away?
- What happens to diversity at the workplace when the choice to select their WFH days leads to more women selecting WFH than men, affecting their ability to connect and collaborate with their colleagues in comparison to men? (Harvard Business Review, 2021)
- Also, what about the lack of spontaneous relationships that flourish between individuals and teams when they work together at workplace?
Redesigning of roles and performance metrics (said and unsaid)
As suggested by the above article, women with domestic responsibilities and single parents would prefer to continue in the WFH mode of working as it provides for a better handling of the work life balance. There is also a category of individuals who are keen on getting back to their WFO mode. If that is true, this brings up new dimensions worth looking at such as:
- How would the career progression of those that are in office differ in comparison to those that prefer to work from home as the latter may not be as visible and accessible as their counterparts?
- Should roles and responsibilities for a particular position be re-thought and redesigned to reflect the inclusion of the work-from-home provision?
- How does one ensure that there is objectivity when assessing the performance of employees, irrespective of their mode of working?
- Should top management drive the focus on absolute performance and communicate its importance to allay such fears of employees and thereby act as true advocates of employees’ interests?
- With all employees being at home, the productivity assessment was at par and remote check-ins were a part of performance monitoring. However, when employees in similar jobs are located differently, would managers be required to assess performance differently?
Flexibility, resilience and change management have been the mantra that organizations swear by when it came to managing human capital in the last year. Even now, with fear of the pandemic still looming large, organizations have their task cut out for them. They will need to be fluid when they chart their own course, try new initiatives, execute, and monitor them.
However, it will also be worth remembering that the human resource has never been more crucial and employee well-being has never been a higher priority. The act of balancing organizational and employees’ interests, while continuing to emphasise on bringing back the human element in organizations, has never been more precarious. For organizations, it’s time to put the thinking caps on.