The worldwide response to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus pushed people across the globe to reduce direct contact with others. Two key means of achieving this were to limit international travel and encouraging people to work from their homes, where the nature of the work permitted. In order to safeguard the wellbeing of their staff, their clients and their service providers, organisations raced to put in place new ways of working to permit such work and to mitigate any negative consequences.
The effect of such a mass migration from working in the office to working from home ushers in the next industrial evolution. People have suddenly realised that many businesses already offer much of their service offering online, now that they are forced to use it they will overcome that first fear of using or doing something new. Thereafter it will be more convenient to use online portals for such tasks as renewing insurance policies, making banking and payment transactions, or ordering documents form government agencies. Once people see the benefit of ordering food online and having it delivered, will they revert to losing so much time in supermarkets?
A vast number of people around the world have just started to work from home. Being thrown into it without warning is unsettling, particularly for parents with the added challenge of having to simultaneously home-school their children. If working remotely is planned properly, it can be the ultimate game changer for those seeking to strike a better balance between work and their personal life. Not having to physically go to an office permits remote workers to avoid time and expenses on commuting, as well as reduced stress levels from frustration at road standstill traffic or overfilled public transport. The time saved can be put towards their personal life: perhaps to spend a bit more time with family, to catch up on sleep, to prepare healthier food options, to exercise or to enjoy a hobby.
The question then arises, how does a business prepare for remote working? Leaving aside the technological capacity and tools that do much of the heavy lifting, the starting point is one of trust. Those business leaders who trust their staff are spending their forced time inside to redesign their enterprise, reaching out to clients and collaborators, continuing to drive forward. While every company and team have their own context, certain ground rules may be laid down that give the managers control and the employees’ certainty. While some timing flexibility should be encouraged, it helps if everyone is on the clock and switched on in work mode within a given time range every day or on set days of the week for those who work reduced hours. This permits fluid communication and the exchange of ideas and instructions, while also respecting the individual’s personal time.
Remote workers need to be prepared and trained to work from home. It is as easy for some to remain in pyjamas all day and work unenthusiastically as it is for others to jump straight from bed to the laptop and remain there until bed time – neither of which is healthy for the individual or efficient for the business. Routines need to be set and respected by both parties for remote working to be successful.
Telecommunications tools permit myriad ways of organising ono-to-one discussions and group meetings. Leaders should find the time to talk, and if possible, hold a video conference with their staff members on a regular basis to discuss both work and interpersonal matters. Team meetings should also be held regularly to discuss matters of common concern, any new procedures as well as to help nurture team spirit.
Despite all the benefits of remote working, some staff members may simply not take to remote working, or their home circumstances do not easily permit work to get done and it is important to cater for their needs too. Some employees may also need to work in the office due to the nature of their work, or to meet clients or collaborators so we do believe that while remote working may become far more the norm, the office has life in it yet.
It took an unbearably tragic pandemic to kickstart the current evolution in the way business is done, yet the writing is on the wall for smarter ways to get work done. Now is the time for forward-looking organisations to put in the place the foundations for the next decade. Inter-Serv is a business too and we are also dealing with the challenges posed by COVID-19. We have been monitoring the situation since it emerged in Asia in December 2019 and as it spread closer to home, we pro-actively mobilised and invested to permit our entire workforce to operate remotely. We hoped this would not be necessary, but when it became so, we were ready and able to do so seamlessly. Malta’s Business Registry is also fully operational online, permitting the registration of new companies, partnerships and foundations, as well as any changes to existing entities. We believe that the business world will be forever changed, even after COVID-19 is tamed. We can help you to make sense of these troubled times and forge a way forward despite the turmoil
At Inter-Serv, we believe the global marketplace will never return to the way it was before COVID-19. This is not meant in a negative sense, rather the surreal Social Distancing experience forces us to re-evaluate our priorities, our needs and our concept of risk and preparedness. For some, it means that the trajectory of their business is irreversibly altered.
This article is the second in a series from our Corporate Structuring and Advisory team that sheds light on how the business world will emerge from the end of COVID-19. Follow us on our website or on social media for thought leadership articles.