Business

Is remote working here to stay?

Is remote working here to stay?

Working from home, which has been forced upon workers amidst the outbreak of coronavirus, is set to become a norm in the UAE and other advanced countries in the not-so-distant future when the dust settles around the virus.

The journey entails a lot challenges such as the nature of employee relationships and HR policies that ensure employee productivity, but it would be the best bet for tomorrow's world.

Considering the changes that will materialise on the remote work place, the Dubai Future Foundation on Wednesday launched the first part of a series of reports designed to tackle the return-to-work scenario once the virus invasion recedes.

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, said the report will help deep-diving into the future of work, looking into the necessary policies and regulations that would need to be implemented to ensure business continuity.

Abdulaziz AlJaziri, deputy CEO and COO of the Dubai Future Foundation, said it is not going to be so easy to make the conversion.

Because, he says, "the shift imposed by the current changes towards working remotely raises the issue of whether there is an actual need for a physical work space, the nature of employee relationships, how HR policies will adapt to this sea change whilst ensuring employees' productivity and happiness. And finally the acceptance of events and seminars going digital."

In the long-term, working remotely may become an integral part of business models post-Covid-19, with entities maintaining a remote working structure, except for meetings that must be held face-to-face.

Large events, seminars and workshops will go digital, with virtual and augmented reality used to create 'real-life' inclusive experiences. With automation increasing rapidly, employees will need to diversify their skills or use their existing skills for other jobs.

The study found that the shift had begun to manifest itself even before Covid-19 struck the world in certain sectors, such as IT, marketing, app development and some forms of retail.

"It led to increased productivity, virtual collaboration and for some companies, lower costs, including office rental, travel and events. Companies that have adopted remote working policies have also been able to reduce their carbon footprint, with employees commuting less; therefore, using less energy," said the report.

Vijay Gandhi, regional director for recruitment consultancy Korn Ferry, said the biggest HR challenge faced by an employer is the difficulty in predicting future workforce needs in response to the evolving economic landscape.

"We are in unchartered area which we haven't seen before. However, organisations are doing their best to accommodate staff on their payroll today," he said.

According to a Korn Ferry survey, most of the corporate staff , 75 per cent - are voluntarily working from home while 22 per cent of manufacturing/operation employees are working from home and 23 per cent of them customer-facing staff is also working from home.

It found that social distancing is more prevalent among head office (corporate staff) at 69 per cent followed by 58 per cent for both manufacturing/operations and customer facing employees.

"There is no magic bullet as organisations look at better leave management, split teams and temporary pay cuts in the short-term. However, if the situation carries on for months, then there would be more drastic measures taken such as unpaid leave, reduction in workforce to survive the business impact because of the pandemic," said Gandhi.

A study done by Global Workplace Analytics found that remote workers have grown by 140 per cent since 2005. Owl Labs, a maker of video conferencing technology, reported that 16 per cent of global companies are exclusively hiring for remote job opportunities. By 2028, a study by UpWork, a work-from-home platform, estimated 73 per cent of all departments will have remote workers.

Additionally, the report introduced several short and long-term recommendations.

On the short-term recommendation (during the Covid-19 outbreak), is to introduce a well-being model, such as happiness indices and activities to promote social interaction. These could take the form of digital community events and will become prevalent in HR policies to ensure employees remain mentally healthy while working from home. Productivity will be measured through outputs rather than inputs, with employees managing their own time, instead of being subject to mechanisms that monitor hours or visibility, it said.

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