Remote Work Culture in the Face of COVID-19

Despite the the arrival of vaccines on the Covid-19 battlefields, we face many more months of segregation.

In the corporate world, it is the human resources professionals, specialized in issues of organizational behavior and emotional well-being, who play an increasingly important role, both in managing a remote work culture of the company and in labor productivity.

For companies of all latitudes and from different industries, the interruption of operations in their physical facilities can be inevitable. It will be only those that can handle the disruption that will be well positioned to overcome the outbreak and also to face future crises

The following measures have helped ensure that employees have the tools and technical support they need to perform productively and maintain a good connection when working remotely.

1. Prioritize health and wellness above all else.

As COVID-19 spreads the highest priority of every organization must be to protect the health of its talent, customers, suppliers and collaborators.

While sending employees to work under the protection of their homes keeps a large segment of the working population safe, how do you maintain a remote work  culture?  And what about those who cannot perform their duties remotely? Some organizations have taken the step to  quarantine the operations of fundamental areas that must remain in operation.  This means conditioning physical spaces where these employees can carry out their work without coming into contact with other people.

2. Build the right infrastructure for remote work.

A virtual workplace shares many of the elements that exist in a physical space: places arranged for collaboration, the exchange of ideas and the execution of work. However, it can take a titanic effort to ensure that each employee has the minimum technology to be effective in that virtual environment: laptops , a virtual private network (VPN), a virtual platform for file sharing, access to specialized software, a telephone. cellular and preferably high speed wifi.

In addition to this basic infrastructure, organizations must provide access to the appropriate collaboration and communication tools to work remotely. Designing new workplaces is almost like designing “neighborhoods” so that people in their work teams feel close to each other.

It may be helpful to assign a manager responsible for monitoring the remote collaboration virtual space or a technical support team to support staff in their transition.

3. Combat lack of productivity / commitment with virtual culture initiatives.

In this new reality when even coffee shops and bars may still be closed, working from home with little in-person interaction, even for a few days, can make some people feel lonely and this can help lower productivity and commitment.

In this situation, organizations must take a proactive stance to combat its impact, taking steps to ensure that employees still feel connected, even if they are not. Virtual chats, “Happy Hours”, book clubs, games and avatar-based socialization can go a long way toward achieving that goal. They may not be the perfect substitute for meeting rooms, coffee shops, and social events, but they offer a good office experience and bring a much-needed “sense of community”.

When thinking of ways to reinforce organizational culture, recognize the variety of challenges that employees will face during social distancing from COVID-19. A single, outgoing employee who works alone outside his or her department may feel profoundly lonely.  Others  might feel  pressure to care for their young children or elderly parents, while still having to closely monitor their virtual classes.

The desire to participate in virtual cultural events will differ, but all employees can benefit from regular phone or video calls with their direct teams on work-related matters.

4. Explore alternative work sites.

In some cases, employees will not be able to enter the office, but working from home is not an option either.

That is why some organizations are evaluating alternative workspaces such as sanitized coworking centers . In this option, it is important to know who else has access to those facilities. We can expect more organizations to recognize the value a network of alternative workspaces where employees can continue their duties and be productive during emergency situations

5. Managing communication is vitally important.

Maintaining clear communication is essential to provide transparency during this time of great change. Establish communication protocols and guidelines to inform employees and suppliers of your action plans in the event of infectious disease outbreaks. An intranet could provide access to whatever information employees are looking for on policies and updates on COVID-19 at work.

Recognize that employees will be very concerned about the impact this situation will have on their workday, and about the long-term implications for the economy and their job. It is advisable to communicate with them on a regular basis to report on the impacts of the pandemic on their business and expectations regarding their performance during this period.

How will the way of working for COVID-19 change?

It is impossible to predict the long-term implications of the sudden and massive shift to remote work that we are currently experiencing, but it is possible to predict some outcomes.

One of them is that employees and business leaders will open their eyes to the value that can be activated when each individual has the freedom to work where and when it makes the most sense. That can happen from home at least some of the time.

Yet we are just as likely to end this period wishing for the much-missed, face-to-face interaction, and with a better understanding of how physical space influences the way we all feel and work.

[This article first appeared in the La Nacion, Costa Rica]

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