While WFH is no longer a new concept for techies, employers must make workplaces safer and address the mental health issues of employees.
In the last two years the Covid-19 outbreak disrupted our lives and created a disastrous effect on business and economy, and just when we thought things would get back to normal, the spread of the new variant Omicron created greater fear in the corporate sector. For better or for worse, looks like work from home (WFH) is here to stay at least for IT and some other sectors, as industry pundits already predicted.
In the current scenario, IT organizations are keeping a watchful eye on the situation and are even pressing a pause button on the next phase of return-to-office plans. Some even have halted their business travel while many companies have stepped up Covid protocols and safety norms.
Omicron which originated in South Africa has spread fast in many countries of the world. Many Indian companies earlier offered employees with health packages and they were prepared to work from the offices. However, most of them backed out in the current circumstances, putting the management in a big dilemma over their next decisions.
Recently, Google announced its decision to push back its January return-to-office plans globally amid the growing concerns over Omicron. Panasonic India, which had restarted its offices in full force and resumed business travel has stopped all international trips and is allowing only critical domestic ones.
Harsh Lambah, Country Manager India, Vice President Sales – South Asia, IWG, a global flexible workspace provider mentions, ‘We are closely monitoring developments with regards to the Omicron variant of the pandemic across key markets. We believe that unlike in the case of previous outbreaks, governments and enterprises are much better prepared today to prevent another full-blown outbreak.”
“Nevertheless, it is important that enterprises and the professional workforce continue to adhere to all of the required safety precautions to ensure workplace safety, as health experts have warned that the pandemic could remain active for the long term,” he adds.
Notably, many companies in sectors such as manufacturing and financial services had started close to full attendance after the second wave receded. However, they all are monitoring the situation closely and will take a call on shifting back to WFH depending on more information on Omicron and fresh government guidelines.
“Employees are already used to a new and flexible work environment, where sitting in cubicles is a thing of the past, the new generation of employees now prefer to either work from home or cafes, giving rise to the trend of ‘anywhere operations’. The model for anywhere operations is ‘digital first, remote first’ where digital should be the default at all times. Needless to say, the pandemic has already made remote working the new normal,” says Shibu Paul, VP-International Sales at Array Networks.
While WFH is no longer a new concept for techies, some concerns may remain, as an employee of the IT firm mentions, “Working from home may lead to many psychological issues once again.”
Further research claims that there is disconnect in trust between HR and employees. While 56% of employees say they are more productive when working remotely, only 5% of remote work decision-makers think that remote workers are more productive and 70% say that in-office workers are more trustworthy.
Experts also suggest that ‘Anywhere work programs’ as raved are hard in reality. They are not something that happens overnight. Organizations should focus on the four pillars of remote work: Structure, Culture, Technology and Compliance.
The return to WFH also means that CIOs and internal IT staff will have to work overtime to keep employees secure, connected and productive. Businesses need to invest in new technologies (video and collaboration tools) and redesign their office spaces so as to help employees work with increased focus and efficiency which in turn can restore a greater work-life balance.
Despite the challenges, there seems to be hope on the horizon, as a recent Atlassian survey shows that 94% of Indian workers feel well-prepared to work remotely and 93% have adapted their remote workspace over the last year.
As companies plan to re-emerge in the face of the crisis, one of the key concerns for CXOs is to ensure adequate safety and wellness of its employees. Leaders in the tech industry believe, it is their responsibility to make workplaces safer, maintain every possible safety protocols, streamline work through digital tools and automation and most importantly address the mental health issues of their workforce – whether they work remotely or in office.
Perhaps the concept of ‘office’ has already undergone a big change as the biggest lesson of 2020 and 2021 for businesses is that, work is not a place, but an outcome and this would be an interesting space to watch out for in the coming year.