Insight - HR and the new work reality


  • Corporate News
  • Wednesday, 09 Sep 2020

Will this work-from-home trend last when the pandemic ends and life slowly adjusts back to normal? How will organisations be transformed from this period?

IT was only last year when we were all extremely worried that artificial intelligence (AI) will destroy jobs.

Now, the Covid-19 pandemic is killing people around the world as well as hurting their livelihood and jobs.

This virus pandemic has ushered a new direction in the future of work – becoming virtual and remote rather than physical and local, resulting in a rising trend worldwide of working from home.

Reacting to the virus pandemic disruptions, many businesses have quickly shifted by focusing on work-from-home arrangements and relying more on remote work tools.

Their main aim is to maintain business continuity. For many businesses, it will be the first time that their teams have to collaborate, operate and communicate virtually through technology.

However, there are questions that need to be addressed.

Will this work-from-home trend last when the pandemic ends and life slowly adjusts back to normal? How will organisations be transformed from this period?

Anthony Dass is group chief economist/head, AmBank Research; adjunct professor, UNE, Australia; and member of Economic Action Council.Anthony Dass is group chief economist/head, AmBank Research; adjunct professor, UNE, Australia; and member of Economic Action Council.

How will the shift in workplace behaviour now impact work in the future? What can be expected from remote work in the future?

To some, working from home will be a permanent change.

It brings cost-saving benefits for businesses through reduction of both onsite technology spending and expenses.

There will also be financial savings for the employees – from commuting, office meals and other miscellaneous expenses.

At the same time, there are employees who do not favour the work-from-home environment, perhaps due to distractions at home or their preference to be at a physical work space.

Businesses may also then resort to a hybrid approach by having Team A and Team B working remotely on different days.

Needless to say, the financial gain from businesses and employees, when paired with the minimum disruption or effect on productivity levels and staff well-being, leaves little reason for businesses to return to traditional working styles.

Technology continues to play a significant role.

Organisations will rely more on technology to enable work to happen seamlessly with employees dispersed. Demand for virtual workplace solutions will soar with the aim to assist teams to continue to collaborate, communicate and operate as usual. As businesses move their meetings to conference calls, they are witnessing huge benefits in relation to efficiency, convenience and transparency.

Besides, social workplace activities and water cooler chats are finding their way towards an online version. It is through employee-driven group chats and virtual happy hours. With the digital workspace being able to truly replicate all the elements of working together in an office, more businesses are likely to stick to this as a long-term solution and a method of working together as part of their “new normal”.

One of the few certainties coming out of the pandemic is that it will have a lasting impact on how people work, going forward. The pandemic has allowed more businesses to acknowledge that a large portion of their workforce will be able to function just fine outside of traditional offices.

Some businesses are of the view that they will make remote working a much bigger piece in the future. With remote work becoming a more permanent fixture, it could bring back to the structure where the focus is on “families first” with everything else falling into place around them.

Hence, human resource (HR) professionals will need to have their employees’ work cut out. Also, the HR will find many aspects of the work changed.

In the past, many companies viewed with suspicion the work-from-home model. Employees have been asking for workplace flexibility for years. However, it has now been legitimised as a result of the pandemic.

Although remote working allows many employees to set their own schedules, the irony is that many of them increasingly feel they are expected to be available around the clock. They tend to work more hours with all the tech at their disposal and without additional compensation. The price of this pressure to be available is “burnout” from the “Zoom fatigue”.

The glut of digital communication, combined with the social and physical isolation imposed by the pandemic risk, is sparking an increasing need for actual human connection. Other after-effects of the pandemic are that many have been laid-off or given leave of absence across industries. It raises the anxiety of those still employed, especially those who are on leave of absence. They could be on the chopping block or be laid off.

HR, too, will need to evolve.

They need to play an essential role in driving the success of the new workforce structures, keeping employees regularly informed and managing large swathes of layoffs or furloughs.

When the pandemic crisis tapers, they will need to bring employees back on board, and adjust job descriptions to reflect new realities brought on by the pandemic.

As more people work remotely post-pandemic, HR will need to focus on flexibility benefits, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and keeping employees regularly informed. This goes beyond work-from-home privileges, and puts a heightened focus on things like flextime schedules, childcare benefits and mental health support.

They need to figure out company rules and standards to those working from home. This is where businesses should apply what they have experienced and learned during the crisis.

In short, far from becoming an afterthought in a post-Covid-19 world, HR will have a greater role than ever in helping companies manage new realities. With increased remote work, new ideals of work-life balance, the integration of AI, and the psychological impacts of monumental disruption on the home front, the future of work will look far different than what we are used to.

Anthony Dass is group chief economist/head, AmBank Research; adjunct professor, UNE, Australia; and member of Economic Action Council. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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