6-minute read

The advantages to your business of moving to a flexible home workforce—and the mid-term challenges facing talent leaders in 2021

How a Pandemic Changed the World of Work

COVID-19 proved to be an unstoppable juggernaut in 2020 and the lock-down measures it created have transformed the world of work. A recent study by Stanford University reported that more than one in every three workers (42 percent) in the U.S. labor force are now working from home full-time. To put that into numbers, that’s in the order of 13 to 27 million people working from home.

Is this behavior going to continue into perpetuity? Most would agree it’s too difficult to say, although Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics suggests, based on their own independent research, their best estimate is that 25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.

If we consider the growing proportion of overseas contingent and project workers that contribute to a modern workforce, the reality that lands at our feet is that most companies in 2021 will be largely virtual in their workforce make-up.

Establishing the Next New

But that’s not the end of the story. To bake in these changes, leading corporations like Amazon, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Twitter and IBM have gone on record to say they don’t expect their workers to EVER go back to the old ways of regular office commutes. Some companies are already cashing in the economies found by not operating big office complexes, once necessary to house the workforce every day.

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Advantages to Employers

The obvious benefits for employers of having their people work from home include savings made from downsizing premises, cuts in the size of employee car schemes, travel costs, etc. The benefits go deeper than that though.

  • Telecommunications infrastructure is simplified because workers all move on to the same virtual desktop and tools. No longer do they all need physical phone extensions, mobile phones, etc.
  • Office equipment no longer needs to be provided to equip every worker.
  • The cost of insurances are largely born by the workers, not employer.

The acceptance of home working as being a practical alternative to on-premise working has caused some organizations to open their recruitment up to overseas candidates. As Meghna Bhattacharya, Senior Vice President of HR for USTECH SOLUTIONS explains, “As soon as businesses unburden themselves and escape the age old assumption that everyone should commute to an office every day, it opens doors to a global workforce equipped with the talents they need to fill vacancies faster. Partnering with Workforce companies like USTECH SOLUTIONS means businesses can rapidly tap into this rich source of qualified people.”

For organizations already struggling to operate profitably with their current business models even before COVID-19 struck, some saw the ‘excuse’ of COVID-19 as an opportunity to downsize their workforce and physical assets.

A small number of progressive organizations see the home working revolution as being an opportunity to re-configure their business operations in a positive way, encouraging workforce empowerment to ‘work where they choose’ and embrace flexible working. To make it easier living with this new normal, new technology tools and methods can be adopted to embrace new styles of communication and interaction needed for home working to succeed.

An even smaller number of businesses were already virtual prior to the Pandemic. Companies like EvoluData, a technology company in Canada with a global footprint of clients has always run a virtual business operation. As Marc Laporte, CEO of EvoluData puts it, “It’s been some time since a client said they wanted to visit our offices. We’ve always embraced the idea of workforce empowerment and our technology ecosystem and policies were framed around virtual working from the outset. We see home working as the modern operating model for tech companies. It benefits our workforce through the flexible working rewards it brings, while helping us to run at lower costs. This allows us to pass on these operational savings on to our clients in the form of lower rates.”

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Impacts of Virtual Working Talent Leaders Have to Think About

Having dealt with the short-term panics and short-falls in resources, talent leaders are now turning their attention to a new set of mid-term challenges.

#1 Changes to Employment Contracts for Home Workers

Employment contracts that were created for an office workforce, with many individuals commuting or visiting third party office locations are now being put under the magnifying lens. Does it make sense to pay for company cars if people are working from home? Are holiday and benefits plans still appropriate? For many employees, living and working circumstances in 2021 will be very different. As it dawns on employers that this current virtual operating model REALLY IS the new normal, employment contracts are due for an overhaul.

#2 Productivity Fluctuations

While some reports suggest home working has not diminished productivity, and may in fact have improved it, the performance of some individuals is clearly being impacted, now the honeymoon period is over and workers settle in to the permanency of working remotely, often isolated for hours. Not every worker has an ideal home working setup either. Many young people find themselves still working from home and forced to retire to their bedrooms to work. Other workers find themselves having to accommodate their workplace into homes that were never purchased or rented with a view to accommodating this new activity. Some mums and dads know only too well how difficult it is to concentrate with children and pets around their ankles while on conference calls.

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#3 Oversight and Measuring Productivity

One of the new challenges facing bosses is how to check on their remote workforce to make sure people are doing their work and using work time appropriately. It’s created a new industry for tech tools to monitor the work behaviors of workers, with some capturing keyboard clicks and allowing supervisors to monitor the apps workers are using. Some even let supervisors share screens and see precisely what a worker is doing. (More enlightened employers might argue if you create the right work culture and motivate workers in the right way, they will ‘do the right thing’ anyway and get on with the job without all of this technology-powered monitoring infrastructure!)

#4 Overcoming Gaps in Teamwork/Collaboration

While modern technology means that home workers can always jump on to a web conference call and share files, the experience of home working lacks the finesse of collaborating in the same physical space. It lacks the spontaneity of dialog often described as the ‘watercooler moments,’ and workshops are gone too. The way people collaborate and share problems, ideas, etc. is having to be re-calibrated to alternative means. Workers today need ‘a reason’ to book a web conference call, that they didn’t need back int he day when they bumped into a colleague from a different department in a corridor and started fixing a problem in that classically organic way that happens in conversations.

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#5 Re-enforcing Policies and Brand Standards

In an era when customer experience means so much to companies, executive teams know full well that it tends to be people that make the difference. It’s not easy to re-enforce operating policies and brand behaviors when your people are remote, and an increasing number of them are not directly employed.

#6 Adopting New Processes and Technologies for Recruitment and Remote Workforce Management

Operating a remote workforce requires businesses to re-think recruitment and adopt a virtual model. This means, from the point a requirement is published to the day of onboarding, every stage in the recruitment process must be re-equipped to overcome the need for face-to-face meetings.

Fortunately, new technologies such as mobile-first applications, AI-driven chatbots, video conferencing, online video publishing, AI-based background check and skills qualification systems, etc. are able to overcome the majority of these hurdles. Some would argue virtual recruitment misses the ‘softer’ aspects of relationship building that face-to-face interviews and onboarding can deliver. But this small compromise appears to be something many HR practitioners are willing to sacrifice for the broader rewards that come from tapping into a global workforce.

As Paige Brach, Talent Acquisition Executive for USTECH SOLUTIONS explains, “For businesses facing talent shortfalls in their workforce, sometimes with open vacancies sitting in excess of 15% of their workforce, relaxing ‘must work in the office’ rules opens doors to a broader audience of talent.”