Working-from-home during 'Corona-crisis': new opportunities
As you read this blog, the coronavirus pandemic has now reached a critical phase where several countries including India are under a virtual state of lock-down, with over 3,49,000 people affected worldwide. As the world grapples with this unprecedented healthcare challenge that has impacted millions of lives across countries and affected nearly all economic and social spheres - governments, medical professionals and businesses are working towards mitigating the situation and preventing its spread.
Besides the massive social disruption that COVID-19 has caused in the last few weeks, there has also been a significant—and adverse—economic impact. Many companies and organizations have had to re-evaluate their business continuity plans and exigency strategies. Faced with uncertainty, several employers are still in the phase of fully understanding the situation and learning lessons from the rapidly unfolding events. There are new concerns, questions and reactions that range from acceptance and adjustments, to panic and pessimism.
Yet, every crisis contains deep within itself the seeds of new opportunities and solutions. Businesses and organizations can use these times to re-evaluate their goals and approaches and re-strategize the way forward with innovative measures to boost their dynamics with employees, stakeholders, investors, partners and others in the ecosystem. This is especially critical as traditional work patterns are under a cloud, with employees increasingly opting to—and demanding—work from home, and governments advising companies to introduce ‘telecommuting’ as a measure to ensure the safety and well-being of employees.
While introducing ‘work from home’ measures, it is critical for teams to establish ‘ground rules’ on key aspects—ranging from connectivity and goals, critical tasks, ensuring streamlined communication and coordination as per individual roles and multi-tasking. Clarifying goals is important in the wake of shifting work patterns, to enable teams to revisit their tasks as per institutional objectives, employee roles, and the envisioned outcomes. This also helps in putting forward a peer-led rather than leader- or boss-driven model with increased communication and engagement within the group of workers. Focusing on multi-tasking and the ability to manage multiple teams and projects will be an essential requirement and an asset for employees, and due emphasis should be placed on this.
This is also an opportune time for institutions to rethink priorities and focus on building and mapping skills and capacities of employees based on their competencies. Amid these volatile times, encouraging employees to enhance their expertise is essential. This would enable them to emerge as problem-solvers and troubleshooters at work, and reduce redundancies. Another key area worth exploring is to identify and assess emerging challenges in terms of resources, supply chain and other pandemic-related exigencies, and focusing on ideas and solutions. These may help strengthen inherent weaknesses and enhance institutional capabilities in developing responses once normalcy returns.
At the core of the concept of working from home is ensuring personal interactions and engagement and humanizing the experience for the employees. Many workers in teams may come from different social, ethnic and economic backgrounds, and in order to ensure cohesion and intra-team harmony is to enable mediums of communication that display empathy and openness. Understanding that these are extraordinary times and an unprecedented situation is crucial for operational heads and employers, especially when it comes to helping employees cope with anxiety and stress. Some may find working from home somewhat unnerving and feel disconnected, which in turn affects the productivity and engagement with colleagues. To overcome these challenges, the need for personal interaction led by employers is more important than ever. This can be done through regular virtual meetings, telephonic interactions, video conferencing and mobile messaging apps. These allow more personal interactions (unlike in formal emails), allowing team members to read one another’s emotions, and boost morale and mental health in these trying times.
As the former President of India A. P. J. Abdul Kalam said, “Man needs difficulties in life because they are necessary to enjoy the success.” As India gears up to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, the power of our indomitable spirit, integrity, grit and collective efforts can provide an impetus for change. The choice is ours.