Employees love having the flexibility to work from home, which we already know. Even business leaders love to be able to work remotely.
Working flexibly allows us to plan our work schedules to fit our lifestyle needs. We get to prioritise our deadlines and work at our own pace. If we need to run an errand, such as to pick up our kids from school or go for a medical check-up, we can just let our team know and come back to work without having to apply for leave.
According to Randstad Malaysia’s Employer Branding Research Report 2021, 59% of local respondents in Malaysia ranked “work-life balance” as a top EVP factor, an 11-point increase from 48% in 2020. It shows that workers have a very different perception and attitude towards work-life balance as well as what they expect from their employers after having the chance to work from home during the pandemic.
In a way, the flexibility to control our time has helped us become more productive workers. Night owls can work during the time when they are most productive and parents are finally able to accommodate their child’s school schedule. We can better meet our deadlines because we are able to prioritise our work and set the pace on when it will be done. We’ve also gotten better at communicating with our team members over video conferencing and chat messages.
However, as safety measures get lifted, we are hearing that many employers are expecting their staff to return to the office. How are employees affected by these new measures? Will they be able to find a new groove, or will they start to feel overwhelmed?
Returning To Work Is Not Going To Be Easy
There are many reasons why employers want workers to return to the office. They might be looking to rebuild the organisational culture, better integrate their new employees into the workplace, or simply want “things to return to normal”.
But some employees may rebut the idea of going back to the office. Many people think that their bosses want them to return to the office to micromanage them or make sure that they are working from 9 to 6, even for the night owls. Others feel that their bosses are traditional and old-fashioned, who are adamant that work can only be duly performed in the office.
Regardless of the reason, expecting employees to work in the office from 9-to-5 brings back pre-pandemic workforce issues such as presenteeism. It creates a false perspective that being in the office means we are working or are more productive. But the reality is that we scroll through social media or read the news - even when we’re in the office. We are humans after all, and we all take breaks.
The good news is that such unhealthy work requirements are starting to be put in the spotlight in recent years. Many employees are calling out their companies on social media and online forums, forcing the organisation to go under widespread public scrutiny. These negative reviews will significantly impact the company’s ability to attract new talent or retain their employees in the long run, even if they offer to pay a higher salary.
This is why when we interviewed 16 HR leaders across Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, they all agreed that hybrid work is the best HR solution that would meet both new employee expectations and the organisation’s workforce management goals.
Your employees can continue to exercise the flexibility that they have and choose where and when they want to work, individually or as a team. However, business leaders face a new challenge with hybrid work arrangements: how do you manage your employees when you don’t even know where they are that day?
Read more: The 5 Challenges Hybrid Teams Face
It’s Okay To Not Know Where Your Employees Are Working From
The first thing that bosses need to come to terms with is that it’s okay to not know where your employees are working from. As long as they are communicating regularly with the team and meeting their deadlines, it doesn’t matter if they are at home, in the office or at the cafe. You just have to trust that they are responsible enough to do their work.
Instead of measuring your employee’s inputs such as their working hours or the number of emails sent in a day, employers should learn to measure the outcomes. This would be their ability to meet deadlines, targets, or project goals, as well as the quality of their work.
If you’re someone who needs to be regularly updated on the progress, then you can always set up regular work-in-progress meetings or ask your team to send you email updates every two to three days. There is no need to call or message them every 30 minutes asking for an update because it’s likely they are still working on it. In fact, when you ask for an update every 30 minutes, they are actually wasting more time giving you the update than doing the actual work that needs to be done.
Leaders will need to establish trust with their employees for a more meaningful and mutually-beneficial relationship. Your role as a boss or manager is to encourage and guide your employees in their journey to explore new solutions that are more resource-efficient.
You should also help them remove barriers or obstacles if you see them struggling at work. They could be facing some issues at home or feeling too overwhelmed with all the tasks they need to do. Being able to understand their challenges, professionally and personally, can help build trust. You can offer them guidance or help them re-prioritise their work so that they can pace themselves better or learn how to take breaks when they need to.
Your employees will learn to respect you as they know that you’ll always be there to help them, especially if they face unexpected and new challenges. Once this bond is sealed, they will become more loyal to the company.
A strong feedback culture like Klook’s is a great example of how organisation-wide trust can be established even when working remotely. Klook promotes regular check-ins between employees and supervisors, not just to discuss work KPIs, but also issues at home that may be impeding productivity.
Optimise Digital Tools To Improve Productivity
Even though you trust your staff to be productive, you’ll still need results to show your boss, especially when it’s time to talk about pay raises and promotions.
Digital tools can help you in many ways here, such as team collaboration, communication and upskilling. Since your employees can access these tools from anywhere, all you need to do is ensure they are using them actively so that you can track the data and results from your end.
Cloud-based collaboration tools
Most of us are already used to using cloud-based collaboration tools during the pandemic. Google Suite and Microsoft Office allow employees to work on the same document together from wherever they are. As an organisation, you can achieve better collaboration and efficiency when your team members are able to work on the same platform or project - regardless of where they are working from.
Besides presentation decks and Excel sheets, you can also use project management boards like JIRA,Monday.com and other Monday alternative to keep track of project progress and deadlines across the team. Managers can use these digital boards to distribute the workload fairly across the team and ensure that all projects are properly tracked, assigned and completed to stipulated deadlines.
The capacity to communicate effectively and clearly with someone is one of the most in-demand soft skills and there’s a reason for it.
Working from home limits the opportunities to train our communication skills. We are unable to read body language or accurately understand the tone when reading emails and messages. When a person is very straightforward in the way they write emails, they may be misunderstood as being too blunt or aggressive.
This is why all employees need to learn how to communicate clearly in emails, messages and video conferences. Communicating on digital platforms requires a different approach. To some extent, you may need to over-explain yourself and give very clear instructions to reduce the possibility of miscommunication. Employees should also learn how to ask questions and clarify whether their understanding of the task is correct.
There are also many ways we can collaborate even when we are all working remotely. Many video conferencing solutions such as Zoom and Google Meets offer fun functions such as polls and quizzes. As a manager, you can also create breakout sessions for brainstorming sessions with the team. When used effectively, these tools can help build better camaraderie and engagement among team members, which would further help them become better at communicating with one another.
Better communication creates more transparency and clarity among the workforce, which would lead to a more productive workforce. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do, leaving little room for second guesses.
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Learning and development
One of the best ways to improve productivity and engage with your employees is through training and development. Many employees are turning to Reddit, YouTube or Coursera to learn how to use Excel functions or new softwares. Even TikTok users are sharing free software such as Notion, and showing how to use the best Notion widgets for productivity, as well as tips on uncommon functions people can try out on Powerpoint to create videos and gifs.
As organisations forge ahead with their digital plans, they would need to continue offering such exciting opportunities and channels for learning. As a manager, you should also encourage and empower your employees to take charge of their own upskilling.
Randstad conducts “train the trainer” sessions where subject matter experts within the organisation share their knowledge to help others become better. Subjects could include personal online branding or hybrid work management. Other companies also offer sponsorship or scholarship programmes to encourage more employees to get certified.
Be Agile and Flexible in How You Measure and Drive Workplace Productivity
Implementing hybrid work will be a challenge faced by most business leaders around the world. Many of us are still on a discovery journey to find out what works best for our culture, and it takes time to experiment. There will be failed attempts, but we must be able to learn quickly from them and forge ahead.
Read This Before You go: 6 Ways to Efficiently Evaluate Work-From-Home Employees
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