Over the last two months the world has been fighting an invisible enemy. From inadvertently to brutally, we have been struggling against an unknown intruder which has been haunting everyone’s life. Initially it was a distant event, something that would never happen to us. First it was silent, but grew increasingly louder. Although it was breathing fire down our back, we failed to be prepared: we remained unarmed.
Coronavirus. This word had never been part of our daily vocabulary until three months ago. Now, it is the most uttered word in conversations, at work and on the news.
This virus is ruling our habits as well, distorting deeply rooting customs such as greeting with a kiss on the cheek, and sharing mate.
Due to underestimation of consequences, lack of contingency plans, or a whole myriad of reasons, we are been dragged, almost by inertia, towards a sudden cultural change that we must quickly adapt to, until it stabilizes, who knows for how long, or perhaps forever.
The new customs that this cultural change entail, seem to be accepted more easily than others. Only just a few days after the first case was confirmed with the virus, it was not surprising to see people covered with face masks or rushing to get hold of the last bottle of alcohol gel, moved by survival instinct rather than protocols.
After getting over initial uneasiness, there are other customs that will be harder for us to change, for instance, work.
Tasks which did not require face-to-face interaction, remote work was set up as a suggestion/need/duty, from night today. Companies are finding out how their personnel can keep producing safely from their homes.
Remote work in IT companies
This manner of working is not new for Technology companies. Working remotely has enabled some companies to meet the needs of clients who live in other countries, without travelling, and to connect professionals, who despite residing in other cities or continents, join a project and meet deadline and quality, without having to work at the office.
In Quanam, for example, we have been conducting projects abroad for more than 20 years. We also telework with the provinces, for instance, we have had a team working in Bella Unión (Province of Artigas), for more than a year. These projects involve multidisciplinary teams consisting of consultants, clients and suppliers. Telework has been a successful manner to implement remote projects, using specific methodologies.
Moreover, telework has become an ally to these companies’ personnel, because now they can balance their life and work more effectively, they can choose when to study, rest, and practice sports, without the restriction of a fixed timetable and the journey to and from office.
Now, the question is: if it is possible and beneficial, why is it not widely implemented in Uruguay and all over the world?
The radical change which involves moving the place of work to home, means a structural revolution. We have to get rid of deeply rooted working schemes. The typical “Monday to Friday from 9 to 17” every day, in the same place, as tedious as it may seem, generates calm and security because that is the way it is, and it seemed unchangeable.
A fixed timetable and location, boss-employee physical proximity, meetings to discuss most topics, are traditional work schemes that still prevail as a guarantee of productivity. Apparently, it depends on working for an unchangeable number of hours a day, at a place where an employee is always visible.
On the other hand, the idea of remote work can lead to mistrust, even more so, if it is not done in an orderly manner. Remote work is not as laid- back and simple as it may seem. Its success and sustainability in time will depend on previous organization. Several tips are repeated in order to generate an adequate environment: choosing a place especially determined for a task, comfortable furniture, and appropriate lighting. Timetables must be respected: not only the time for work, but breaks and lunch time, as well as already scheduled virtual meetings. Even choosing an outfit other than pyjamas and having TV and social media away to avoid constant temptation.
If we are used to a rigid schedule, and following basic organizational rules like those described, the opposite may lead to procrastination or staying at the computer until dawn. One way or another, this goes against performance and efficiency.
However, telework as a single mode of work which can cause isolation and discourage teamwork, exchange of ideas, learning, as well as companionship and camaraderie beyond work.
In short, the comfort zone of what we know draws a veil on the advantages of remote work.
Benefits of telework and home office
We have already mentioned how easy it is to be a click away from customers and professionals who are thousands of kilometres away, virtually traveling here and now, by means of technology, without incurring in travel expenses, or wasting time moving from city to city.
In this same vein, telework means savings for companies, in resources such as electricity and water, and reducing maintenance and material costs since there will be less people working at the office, and probably for fewer hours.
The remote mode has proven to be environmentally friendly too. Since the advent of coronavirus, large cities have drastically decreased the use of cars, leading to a significant reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions. According to figures provided by China’s Ministry of Ecology and the Environment, the average “good quality air days” increased by 21.5%, in February. Other analyses performed in moments other than this one have shown similar results. The 2017 Telecommuting State in the U.S. Employee Workforce research, conducted by Flexjobs with Global Workplace Analytics, has pointed out that the reduction of the greenhouse effect achieved as a result of telework, is equivalent to the decrease of gases emitted by removing 600,000 cars from traffic per year.
Telework also has major benefits for workers. This modality drastically reduces transport costs, both individually and collectively. It is even more advantageous if we consider the idle number of weekly transportation: waiting for the bus, the journey itself, and slowing down for several blocks during rush hour bottlenecks. Considering all these situations, on average, we miss 10 hours a week, on the journey to work. Otherwise, these hours could be invested in more quality time with our families and friends, practising sports, resting, enjoying a hobby, among others. The list can be endless. Also, telework is extremely beneficial for parents with school-age children. All the logistics required to pick them up from school, having meetings with their teachers or taking them to the doctor’s are far easier. It will no longer be necessary to dash out of the office for fear of arriving late.
For younger and undergraduate generations, this modality may help match class schedules, study meetings, and more time for exam preparation. Let alone having the liberty to choose elective subjects based on personal taste, rather than those which meet their working hours. Flexitime and remote work are among the intangible benefits that personnel appreciate more. These become corporate assets, and top of the list benefits to attract and keep talent. According to the ICT HHRR STUDY HR Trends carried out by Búsquedas IT ( IT Searches in spanish) at the end of 2019, flexitime and telework are implemented 80% and 60% respectively in technology companies, generating a positive impact on their payroll that grows year by year.
Striking a better balance between personal life and work increases job satisfaction rates, and telework plays a leading role to this end. There is a direct impact on health improvement by reducing stress, which leads to absenteeism decrease i by up to 50%. License days can be used entirely for holiday, and not for carrying out personal proceedings.
When people telework, they work for goals rather than hours. The commitment to the work assigned is clearer and employees move from meeting timetables and being card markers to feeling empowered of their projects. Self-management strengthens the feeling of belonging and engagement because completing work and achieving goals depend even more on the individual.
Considering all the above we return to our first question. What is the reason why there are no more companies which implement telework? Although it entails difficulties inherent to a revolutionary cultural change, it has more advantages for both sides than drawbacks. It is true that now it is not practical for all existing labour and tasks in the market. However, trends show companies are increasingly incorporating telework, where the future of work is.
Given the world and our country’s situation, the future arrived earlier than we expected, so we cannot help but dizzying implementing telework.
As the old saying goes, there is an opportunity in every crisis, and this health crisis brings the opportunity to question old paradigms, and openness to a change that could be beneficial for all parties, whether fully or partially applied.
All organizational changes must be gradually implemented, with the commitment of all parties. This time, change was not gradual. The role of leaders is pivotal to ensure their teams that they have all the tools and securities they need to meet their aims efficiently. But above all, their main role is to reinforce communication and stay connected. Empathy is of utmost importance these days. We take care of ourselves to take care of each other. We also communicate to look after the other, to avoid isolation and situations as we referred before, as much as possible. Not everyone reacts the same way to a crisis, so leaders are closely in touch with their employees to learn how they are dealing or coping with this situation, and how to help them have a smooth transition. (Leaders must be taken care of, too!). Health authorities recommend “social estrangement” but actually, this is only physical distance. When remoteness is imposed, we must all keep close to find advantages to this crisis, and why not, to find ourselves at the beginning of a change.
Responsible of Quanam HR dep.