The Empowered Employee

The Empowered Employee

WFH makes managers shift gear from monitoring to motivating

Just six-months ago, recruitment interviews assessed the team-player scores of future employees; today they try to figure out the remote-working mindset of new talents. Companies are looking for self-motivated, empowered employees who need little physical supervision to accomplish their work and be innovative. Covid-19 has dramatically transformed the employee profile. It has also done away with the traditional supervisory managers; and replaced them with those who can clearly communicate the objective, enable them with the tools to achieve it, empower them to take decisions, and leave them to do their job.

Ever since countries went in for lockdowns some four months ago, a fair amount of experience and data has been generated, pointing to some clear trends emerging out of the chaos. Thirty-minutes-sharp, outcome-focused meetings have now become the corporate norm, new touchpoints like an online pet-party, where employees show off their pets to each other, and the idea of appointing a Head of Remote Work. Covid-19 is radically transforming work. Organizations are categorising work based on what can be performed remotely, what needs a hybrid model of remote, and those that are at-office work or cannot be delivered remotely.

It is critical to upskill employees who will work fully remote or in a hybrid model. This model has opened up possibilities of location-agnostic talent sourcing opportunities, effectively lowering the cost of hiring and also doing away with the need for employee relocation. A monthly trip to the headquarters or to a shared location to meet colleagues might be options for periodic touch-points. This could be a winning proposition for both employers and employees, with profound effects on the quality of talent an organization can access and the cost of that talent. We would witness a different breed of employees emerging, one that can work without much supervision. Hiring parameters, therefore, need to change.

One of the best outcomes of work-from-home (WFH) is that there has been no loss of productivity. A Harvard study found workers adjusting to virtual work practices more quickly than leaders had feared they would. In many cases, the workers felt that they were just as productive as before – and quarterly reports have corroborated that too. The fact that so many employees believe they have successfully navigated this big shift amidst a pandemic, with no productivity loss, is remarkable.

However, on the flipside, turning off work at home has proved especially tough. Workdays significantly increased at the beginning of all-virtual work. In the weeks immediately after the lockdown began, only half of employees were able to maintain a 10-hour workday or less, whereas nearly 80% had been able to do so previously. These patterns have started to trend back to pre-lockdown levels, although workdays still remain 10% to 20% longer on average.

WFH is a system in and of itself, with many interfaces and interdependencies, both human and technological. These include:

  • Investments in collaboration, productivity and creativity tools. While some of these exist, some are yet to be innovated or invented.
  • Policies, practices, and HR procedures like travel, talent development, compensation need to be redesigned. Operational issues like office design and logistical challenges like “hoteling” – making temporary desks available to remote workers when they need to work on site – will also have to be addressed.
  • Preserving the organization culture will become a critical aspect of the new ways of working. Sooner all later, every organization will need to prescribe new rules, norms, and key metrics to preserve and enhance organization culture and values.

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