As the vaccination process begins in Jamaica, people are hoping for things to go back to normal. More employees are preparing to head back to the office environment permanently. However, for many, this chapter of life has left its mark. For professionals who have found working at home to be more flexible. What happens next? Should we go back to working in the office?
Or should we continue to make use of the convenience technology provides? What is the future of the work environment?
Should We Continue Working from Home?
Due to government regulations, over 60% of employed Jamaicans shifted to working from home during the period of July- September 2020.
Many large Kingston-based companies such as Scotiabank and NCB have allowed their staff to work from home.
Most Government offices in St. Andrew and the thirteen parishes have mandated that government employees should practice remote work where they can. Plus, the choice is moot, because with government restrictions, curfews, and No Movement Days everyone will have to telecommute sometimes.
According to ILO 2020, working from home can be linked to many benefits such as reduction in commuting time, better work-life balance, more flexibility, and increased productivity.
Do these benefits translate to a better working experience?
A survey done by Statin showed that over 35% of Jamaicans who started working from home fit better with family and social commitments outside of working hours. In contrast, less than 10% felt that working from home had the opposite effect.
In addition, approximately half of respondents stated that they would more likely work on weekends and evenings when at home.
More than a half also stated they faced no challenges when working from home, and if any, the main challenges were childcare responsibilities and internet connectivity issues.
For some employees, it seems that working from home provides an ideal environment for work and family balance.
But what about employers, is working from home the best option?
The answer to that question is unique to each company’s situation.
Working from home requires trust between the employer and employee. The employer must believe that the employee will complete their daily tasks in a timely manner, without the watchful eye of a supervisor.
This relationship is most times not built overnight, and normally stems from a good track record of productivity and diligence.
Therefore, it is understandable why some companies are reluctant to make the switch.
To consider if working from home is the right step for your business, here are a couple of questions.
Does the Office Environment Make Persons More Productive?
Based on statistics, some employees enjoy working from home more, but are they more productive?
A 2020 HBR study found that the lockdown has been positive for knowledge worker productivity in the short term. After the first lockdown, the percentage of professionals who found time to do critical work rose from 19 to 36%!
Evidence also suggests that lockdowns help knowledge workers to prioritize their work more, as they are able to adjust their schedules to get tasks done. They also found their work more valuable and felt more important.
For knowledge industries such as technology, marketing, or business development, working from home is a great option!
“Conceptually, it’s simple. Working from home works best for relatively independent tasks, when knowledge is codified and can be easily shared from a distance. Being together matters when tasks are interdependent, require sharing tacit knowledge in fluid ways, and coordination needs are not scripted or predictable. An honest assessment of the kind of work your employees do should yield a prescription for the degree to which you are dependent on proximity for quality.” - Amy C. Edmonson
How do employers adjust to the new normal? The pandemic has introduced a new way of working together than ever before. There is no going back, only “forward”.
As an employer, carefully analyze your company to see how it works best. If your staff has mostly independent knowledge-based tasks, why not stick to working from home?
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Let’s first analyze some challenges that working from home may cause.
What are the Challenges to Working From Home?
Working from home has potential benefits for employees and employers alike, however, there are concerns to consider: The Slackening of Effort Peer pressure can be beneficial for employees who are more extrinsically motivated. According to the survey done by Harvard Business Review, some of the concerns were that employees’ productivity would wane at home. How to mitigate this? There are useful project management tools that help to manage tasks such as Asana and ClickUp. These allow managers to see the progress on projects as well as assign relevant activities. It also gives the option of assigning the priority and the task’s due date, as well as additional comments. The Weakening of Relationships What is the glue tying an individual to a company? Relationships. Studies have corroborated that the relationship between employees and their employer is a key factor in their commitment. A survey done by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) highlights that over 60% of workers with 2-5 colleagues would reject another job offer. Similarly, a Linkedin survey shows that approximately half of professionals worldwide feel that workplace relationships make them happier. Working from home poses a challenge as it separates the employee from the group. Face-to-face interactions are a necessary part of human development. When detached, there can be feelings of loneliness.
Since the Pandemic there has been a wave of employees leaving their jobs called the “Great Resignation”. This isn’t happening in the Caribbean yet, but we must be aware of this trend. If we’re not careful, employees might choose international remote work opportunities that allow them more flexibility.
How to mitigate this?
Video conferencing software such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom can be used for fun activities such as company charades that boost morale and engagement. HR can also schedule physical meetups for employees to encourage collaboration and friendship.
The Dilemma of New University Graduates
An underrated benefit of the office environment is for new hires to quickly acclimate to the company. This gives them the chance to make connections, settle in, and most importantly, highlight their skills.
Yet, with the new WFH orders, many companies are unwilling to take the risk on university graduates with little experience.
WFH requires trust and rapport, and unfortunately, the average Jamaican university student cannot compare to a well-seasoned professional in the field.
“Young people who work remotely risk remaining unknown quantities. And unknown quantities don’t become beloved colleagues, or get promoted.” - Amanda Mull, The Atlantic
With unemployment on the rise, the battle is on, and the youth are losing. According to the July 2020 Labour Force Survey, youth employment has decreased by over 20% from July 2019 to 2020.
Even for young ones who have just received a job in the COVID-19 period, there remains a disadvantage for them to establish a name and build connections in the company. It is unlikely that these young hires will get promoted without building the usual rapport from working face to face. A zoom meeting just isn’t the same.
How to mitigate this?
Experts from the Harvard Business School recommend considering a hybrid, flexible approach. Prioritize face-to-face office interactions, but still allow the “work from anywhere” approach.
Over 70% of large multinational firms are considering this approach such as Google, Citi, and German companies. Siemens AG.
This allows team members to still get the benefits of working from home (WFH) but be able to meet for major projects.
How do you organize this?
A recent article by the Harvard Business Review poses some beneficial advice.
Do not let your employees choose their work from home days.
Letting your employees choose their WFH days can lead to a lack of diversity, and some people feeling excluded. In extreme cases, it can even lead to some employees being passed up for a promotion.
Instead, talk to your employees honestly, and make a structure on the company’s needs. Some days may be spent at home, others in the office.
For example, If the manager of a team is WFH on certain days, then the entire team can WFH as well. In addition, for the start of new projects, it would be beneficial to have all teams present.
The key is to carefully analyze your company’s productivity and your team’s feedback to see what is best.
A fitting example is the NCB Group who moved over 62% of its employees to WFH in December of 2020.
What was their result?
Employee engagement increased by 23% and their productivity improved. They chalked this stellar improvement up to constant communication between team leaders and their team as well as a structure for check-ins.
There is No Going Back!
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced us to a new way of using technology to boost efficiency. Many employees who have experienced the benefits of working from home will not be happy to just go back to how it was.
Now more than ever is the time to show compassion and kindness. And more importantly, innovation.
As you establish a new routine, keep your mind open to new opportunities. Whether you live in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, or Kingston, do what you can to help your company thrive!