By Jessie Taylor
While remote working has been slowly becoming more popular, the global pandemic has made working remotely more of a necessity than ever before. But managing a team remotely can come with human resource challenges, such as ensuring employee wellbeing during stressful changes and anxiety around the pandemic.
The potential for increased productivity
Remote working has been a growing trend over the last few years. In the last five years alone, the number of those employees working remotely grew by 44%. This number soared dramatically under Covid-19, as businesses were forced to close under lockdown regulations.
While many businesses are fully operational, large portions of their workforces are still working remotely or spending only part of their workweek in the office – and would prefer to keep it that way. Recruiting firm Robert Walters’ 2021 Salary Survey found that as many as 40% of respondents said they would like to move to full-time remote working, while another 27% said they would want to work remotely at least 50% of the time during this year.
The survey also estimated that some companies had been fast tracked to flexible working by as much as five to 10 years. The shift to remote working has brought some benefits to businesses. The Remote Working in South Africa 2020 study found that the move to working from home had improved productivity in almost a third of companies polled. Companies that had a digital transformation strategy in place before the pandemic increased productivity to 70%. This increased productivity was seen despite less than 40% of South African businesses being ready for remote working when it became mandatory.
The report added that South African trends mirrored the figures being recorded around the world. The study said companies that had transitioned seamlessly, such that 38% of the study’s respondents, said they would allow staff to continue working from home.
Improved business communications
Alongside improved productivity, many professionals have found personal growth and increased happiness through remote working. One such example is that half of the professionals in the 2021 Salary Survey said they had improved on their business communication in a way that office working would not have encouraged. This improvement was primarily attributed to virtual presentations, over-the-phone discussions, and video calls to conduct business. But as workplaces explore this new way of working, HR professionals also have to adjust.
Team members may face challenges such as distractions or isolation while adapting to new technology and changing processes, and it falls to HR professionals to find solutions to this.
Facing remote working challenges
Some of the most common challenges expressed by employees are a lack of in-person supervision – where employees feel as if they don’t have access to managerial support and communication; a lack of access to information; social isolation; and distractions at home.
Fortunately, research is being carried out to pinpoint ways organisations can adapt to the new normal of working. One of the ways to address some of the challenges faced by employees is through communication. This includes creating structured check-ins with employees and providing different communication technology options that go beyond email.
Along with this increased communication, HR professionals will need to relook at their rules of engagement – employees will need guidance on how to navigate these new technologies. For employees experiencing isolation, it may also help to have regular social interactions – this can vary from creating a space to talk about non-work items at the start of a meeting or virtual team building sessions.
Support in holistic approaches
Another critical aspect to consider is employee wellness. More than ever, a holistic approach to employee wellbeing is needed – this includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
Future Workplace’s The Impact of the Coronavirus in the Workplace survey found that many have trouble switching off from work because of the increasingly blurred lines between work and personal life. Around 42% of people reported poor sleep compared to only 29% of those who worked at their employer’s premises. Future Workplace referenced data from VPN providers, which found employees were working longer hours, and often logging on between midnight and 3:00 – a trend that had not been seen before Coronavirus.
This focus on employee wellbeing is especially important, as people grapple with anxiety in dealing with the Coronavirus. While working from home has the potential to boost revenues and increase employee productivity, HR professionals will need to look to ways to transform their internal policies to ensure employee wellness and communication remain at the core of the organisation.