By Ian McAlister, General Manager at CRS Technologies
Remote working has become part of the standard operating procedure at virtually every business, irrespective of industry sector or geographic location. With even manufacturing and mining introducing elements of telecommuting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not only are IT departments required to keep up with the operational requirements of this new normal, but human resources teams need to go back to the drawing board to review how existing policies should be modernised to better reflect the demands of an expanding remote workforce.
From infrastructure to collaboration, security, revised policies and even employee wellbeing, remote working is bringing with it a host of evolving requirements. In the past the concept centred on just having an employee log in to their email and perhaps a cloud-based document repository. But as the events of 2020 showed, the potential for remote working is far-reaching, as it impacts every business process, despite the convenience of cloud solutions.
With this changing environment comes a fresh impetus to reinvent the organisation from the ground up, starting with its human resources systems. This brings numerous opportunities for innovation and growth that many decision-makers would likely not have considered were it not for the lockdown restrictions ‘forcing’ their hand.
Trust in the workplace has never been as important as it is today. Thanks to the normalisation of remote working, companies have employees accessing their back-end systems from anywhere they have a reliable internet connection.
But beyond the technology challenges of implementing remote working practices, managers must have confidence in their employees’ effectiveness while working outside the traditional office environment. However, those organisations that have a high degree of trust in place are more effective at collaborating, being productive, and enjoying a higher degree of loyalty between employees and their managers.
Unlike the pre-pandemic days, companies can no longer rely on a purely roles-based environment. It is now about being outcomes-based. Regardless of whether an employee is working at 01:00 or 13:00, if the work gets done, there should be no issues. For those companies that never embarked on managing the remote workforce and have no plan to do so in the future, it is easy to fall back to the old way of doing things. But the reality is that remote working will be integral to the success of any organisation as it charts the path into 2021 and beyond.
This is not to say that trust in the workplace (especially during the new normal) is easy to cultivate. It becomes significantly more complex when people are not bound to a central office location. Consequently, positive leadership is important to drive a credible and understandable strategy for employees to follow. None of this happens in a vacuum. Given the rapidly evolving regulatory environment, companies must ensure that however they choose to embrace remote working, it adheres to the legal framework. Moreover, their policies must be adapted to reflect this dynamic new environment.
This is not a once-off process. The evolving requirements of remote working require continuous tweaks and revisions that must permeate all business processes while delivering always-on availability to applications and solutions through the cloud.
Whether it is remote working, flexible hours, or just maintaining a new work-life balance, the new normal is here to stay for quite some time. How an organisation embraces it to take care of its employees will depend on its willingness to adapt to a post-COVID-19 landscape.
Evolving with requirements
One of the challenges when it comes to this environment, is the ability to effectively track the skills development of employees. The decentralisation of work means managers and executives no longer have line of sight of how adept people are at performing their job functions or their ability to upskill and reskill themselves.
This has seen the emergence of more effective resource management and reporting tools like CRS Envolve that automate the tracking of people’s skills and assists in their development. This platform empowers managers to track people’s skills, develop them and provide further opportunities to upskill staff for the digital requirements of business today. These tools and technologies are a central theme when it comes to remote skills upliftment.
Using solutions like Envolve, companies can manage performance improvements through obstacle transparency and peer visibility. And because these solutions can integrate throughout the organisation, all departments and divisions have a clear view of the number of hours required to optimise efficiencies and flag potential skills burnout concerns.
Empowering workers with the skills, tools, and applications to become more effective at their jobs while operating remotely is key. This is where human resources play a critical role as traditional, paper-based approaches are no longer relevant.
Digital channels will be the preferred pathway to manage payslips, leave applications, employee appraisals, skills development and so on. Those companies willing to embrace this more agile mindset will be better positioned to adapt to any future environmental conditions, whether that is another wave of infections or something else entirely.
Modernising systems provide scope for increased flexibility, especially when guided by a people-centricity that might have been lacking in traditional systems. By embracing digital solutions and processes, a company will not only be able to survive market uncertainty, but also create a resilience that better delivers economic efficiency. This is where strategy becomes important as it helps guide decision-makers on identifying the stakeholder partners to pursue, the employees best fit for reskilling and upskilling, and incorporate flexibility in how those engagements take place.
Technology is therefore the enabler to reach the potential for a digitalised working environment. But providing the parameters to do so effectively requires a focus on getting the most out of people and valuing them for more than the skills they provide.
The necessity (and speed) of adopting remote working policies and procedures has caught many organisations across industry sectors off guard. With it has come massive disruption to traditional working methods, especially when it comes to people management and appraising the effectiveness of employees to fulfil their job functions.
But while the pressure to adapt has been immense, it does not mean companies do not have to apply solid change management strategies to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible. In our experience, doing so with easily digestible chunks of new innovations can go a long way towards ensuring minimal disruption for employees and managers alike. Fundamentally, the human resource processes within the organisation must involve everyone. It is therefore the responsibility of senior managers to explain the reasons for change to employees, as well as demonstrate why this will be good for the business in the long term.
Obtaining buy-in from employees will ensure that the transition to a remote working environment, driven by cloud-based solutions, is more readily accepted. It is about making sure everything works for the good of the business and its employees. After all, strip away the technology, processes and procedures, and all the company has is its people. While traditionalists will be more risk-averse to fully adopting a remote work culture, the company has a responsibility to slowly build their comfort levels unless they want them to simply fall back to the old way of working.
Part of this change management process must be an awareness of the psychological impact on the individual who works from home. Suddenly there are no boundaries between work and personal life. In the past, commuting to the office provided a useful and much-needed buffer to get thoughts ready for the day ahead. The same applied on the way back home – a person could disengage and start thinking about family. Remote working all but eliminates this. The risk is burning out employees who feel that they cannot afford to take time off and be with their family while at home.
It is therefore critical for companies to ensure that their remote workers establish clear boundaries between this divergence of work/personal roles and responsibilities. The easiest way to do this is by having an assigned workspace at home and allocating time slots to be focused on business. Outside of these hours, the person must switch off their office computer and spend time with loved ones.
The big picture
This is where human resources policies and procedures must look at a holistic approach that also factors in where people live. With remote workers reliant on internet infrastructure, what are the repercussions if they cannot connect due to fibre going down or mobile networks being congested?
Resource management will therefore become even more important than before. Internet access is one part of the equation, but so are sensibilities around work/life balance. These cannot always be remedied with policies. Instead, management must evaluate employees individually and assess what is likely to work for that person. This will always require a balancing act. Trying to force too much control on remote workers can stifle innovation, while giving them free reign might lead to unstructured business practices.
All told, it comes down to embracing remote working with more than just the technology, systems, and processes in place. It is about weighing in the human factor and educating employees (whether they are managers or workers) on the merits of doing so effectively. And underpinning this is a continued focus on developing skills in more innovative ways than before, using automated solutions better equipped for remote management.