Work From Home 2021 - Outdated Workplace Attitudes that SME Owners Need To Change

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With the recent announcement that employees in Singapore should continue to work from home as the default arrangement to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission at the workplace, it is looking ever more indubitable that work culture has permanently shifted.

The traditional eight-hour workday from 9 to 5 may have already been slowly phasing out in recent years, with companies beginning to recognise that work flexibility may lead to higher productivity. However, the coronavirus pandemic has necessitated a much more rapid and radical shift. Whether an employer likes it or not, remote work is now the norm, with all the massive implications that come with it.

The economic fallout from the global pandemic is causing plenty of businesses to struggle, employers have many major issues to grapple with and enhanced responsibilities to bear. Unfortunately, changing how they think about work is also going to be yet another challenge they must face.

Standard 40-Hour Work Week To Setting Flexible Work Hours

As mentioned, companies were already beginning to realise that the traditional eight-hour workday was not necessarily the most effective way for employees to work. Research has shown that shorter work weeks and shorter work hours can lead to greatly increased productivity. Microsoft Japan, for instance,
implemented a four-day work week and claimed to have experienced a 40 per cent boost in productivity.

Working from home has advanced these ways of thinking. The line between work and personal life becomes more blurred, and it is not unreasonable to assume that employees may have to handle personal home issues from time to time simply because they are at home. Parents may have to pay attention to their rambunctious children. Meal-times may have to be adjusted to accommodate certain other family members. More importantly, the typical daily office routine tends to lose its structure outside of the regimented office environment and it may be less efficient to force a strict adherence rather than to let employees have the flexibility to work around it on their own.

There is also the consideration that people tend to work better in concentrated periods and these periods can differ in timing – some are morning people while others tend to work better in the evenings.

Such factors previously could not be accommodated because people, lacking technological tools, had to physically work together and also be physically supervised. Digitisation and digitalisation have changed all that.

It is important to remember that when and how much an employee is working matters significantly less than whether the work is getting done. Suitable performance targets must be set, and proper accountability must still be upheld (more on that later), but there is no reason not to let employees decide on their own work schedule in a highly digitalised and (enforced) remote working environment.

Depending on the requirements of their jobs, workers don’t absolutely have to work eight hours a day, or start work at a specific time. As long as they accomplish their tasks in a timely fashion, who cares if they are working from 4 am to 11 am?

Employees are people too. Trust them to know what works best for themselves. Chances are, you will be rewarded with happier and more productive workers.

Prioritising Accountability Over Direct supervision

One of the biggest reasons why many business owners are reluctant to introduce flexible schedules or work-from-home options is because these present difficulties in overseeing employees directly if they aren’t in the office or logged in at the same time.

As we previously covered, an experiment conducted by Chinese travel agency CTrip back in 2010 in allowing some of its staff to work from home showed that while work performance and worker satisfaction soared, the caveat was that those who were working from home had their promotion rate fall to approximately half that of those who continued to work in the office. The implication was clear: executives clearly prefer employees to remain in the workplace, to the point that those who do are disproportionately rewarded.

As we concluded at the time, bosses might feel more in control of the staff that are physically present and be inclined to trust them more. Certainly, there would always be the suspicion that employees who were working from home were skiving off, even if they were meeting their deadlines and actually being more productive. Employers are only human, after all, and just as susceptible to psychological biases.

However, especially since a global health crisis is enforcing the need to work from home, bosses currently have no choice but to learn to trust their employees more.

Underpinning this increased trust is the creation of a work structure that focuses on accountability. Bosses can no longer be in constant and direct contact with their subordinates. As such, effective communication becomes exceedingly important. Responsibilities and expectations must be clearly outlined. Establish comprehensive performance metrics. Introduce regular, but not incessant, check-ins to review job performance. In addition, an open dialogue with employees about how they can be suitably challenged would go a long way in allowing them to flourish with the freedom that remote work grants but still within the parameters of work accomplishment.

It is a difficult but necessary balance to maintain – employers and managers cannot be too disconnected from their team, but must also accept that relinquishing some measure of control is better off for everyone. Nobody enjoys being micro-managed, especially from the confines of their own home.

Embracing digital transformation

A survey conducted near the end of last year revealed that almost half of executives and bosses desired to return to how things were at work before Covid-19. 91 per cent of them pointed out that many routine business functions were still being conducted offline, and 60 per cent claimed they did not have “a fully integrated system to manage digital workflows across all business functions.”

And yet, only 68 per cent of these bosses agreed that digital transformation should be prioritised with the savings that are experienced through these enforced changes to company operations.

This indicates a reluctance among a significant portion of employers to move with the times. That is decidedly unwise.

The world has become increasingly digitalised and businesses should aim to be at the forefront of change or risk significantly losing competitiveness.

Digital transformation is also what enables the other changes to workplace culture that have been mentioned. Online collaboration relies on the advent of many digital tools and software, as does the ability to host virtual meetings. Digital technology allows for many work processes to be streamlined or automated, and greatly facilitates communication. Working from home can only be a seamless process that might even improve work productivity if digitalisation is fully embraced.

Practically speaking, even without Covid-enforced remote working, it will also be difficult to hire and retain talented employees by restricting them to increasingly outmoded conditions for work. Read also: COVID-19: What Employers Need to Look Out for When Handling Employees on Remote Working 
Read also:
Expired or Expiring Singapore SME Government Grants from 2020 (Will Budget 2021 Provide New Support?)
Read also: 
Remote Working: Employers And Employees' Disagreement Over Working From Home

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UPDATED AS OF 30 May 2024
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