In the last three years, many organizations embraced remote work as part of their organizational culture, though many failed to go with it
With the renewed threat of Covid-19, people have started getting worried about the possible health and economic impacts of the pandemic. While much is yet to be known new coronavirus variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to learn more about it and seeking China’s cooperation.
While talking about the pandemic, it is obvious for everyone to think about remote working which many people across the globe have practiced in the recent past. The pandemic forced many nations and organizations to adopt remote working which never practiced this kind of work modality earlier.
In the last three years, many organizations embraced remote work as part of their organizational culture, though many failed to go with it. It may be also because not all the employees are skilled to work remotely and might not be properly equipped as well. With both positive and negative sides of remote work, HR professionals are likely to face many challenges in this regard. Much research has been done on remote work where expertise is shared and the data shows the effectiveness of the relatively newer type of work modality.
But this has not been the case in Nepal. For example, many schools failed to conduct online classes during the outbreak of Covid-19 and have reported less number of children admitted to schools after the pandemic subsided. According to operators of such schools, many of their students moved to other schools that provided online classes. This is where the organization failed. The reason behind this is not having Business Continuity Leader.
Many business organizations in Nepal are family-owned businesses. Not all of them have established all the departments to run the organization. It is always a good idea to have all the departments have specialized people in order to ensure the proper function of organizations. However, the HR department could always suggest to the management what is good for the company. Providing HR professionals in an organization with the required authority and involving them in strategic plans would be the best thing to do. However, HR is still taken as a department that is responsible for administrative jobs.
In many organizations that don’t have Business Continuity Committee, HR and L&D perform their tasks. An event like the Covid-19 pandemic is unexpected, so many organizations were not prepared during the pandemic. The current threat of the resurgence of Covid-19 should not be underestimated, hence organizations must prepare their Business Continuity Plans (BCPs).
As the health and safety of employees become an agenda of utmost importance during the pandemic, we must think of remote work. When it comes to remote work there are many challenges with no doubt HR has faced.
Maintaining Manning: HR has to identify individuals who can work remotely and those whose work cannot be executed remotely. For this, some staff might be kept on forced leave or even redundant. This action already would be problematic as many will object to the forced leave and even deny redundancy. So, it is better to adjust each employee with certain responsibilities and let them announce voluntarily if they want to be on leave or leave the company. Remain transparent about the situation and business. When it comes to the employee, the matter becomes sensitive that discussion with all the HODs (heads of departments), CEO or General Manager.
Hiring New Employee: Hiring an employee is always a tough task. Screening and selecting an individual for the right job needs patience, a good understanding of the vacant position, and the skill to identify the right candidate. But when the hiring requires an online medium, video calls or telephonic reach are made. My personal experience on this is sometimes a candidate who appeared in an online interview would not be the candidate who applied for the vacant post. I have experienced similar cases while working abroad. Sometimes, due to technical issues and not having internet connectivity in a remote area, a candidate requests a telephone conversation which may lead to fraud. And on the other hand, sometimes we miss candidates as they might not reply to us on time. So while hiring remotely, HR has to be more cautious and make sure the interviewee is the applicant himself/herself.
Executing New Policies and Procedures: To implement new policies or procedures requires good communication. The continuous change will be there according to the situation’s demand in all the organization. So, HR needs to amend or create new policies for the same. But it requires training to make all the employees understand new procedures. Interaction is a must when change takes place and it is essential to create a competent workforce. So, it might be difficult for HR to train people online or attendees to understand. Timely communication might not happen or it might take longer to cover all the employees to train.
Monitoring remote workforce: Online monitoring of staffs is different than supervising them physically. Login and logout records are frequently used to track how much time employees have spent on their job responsibilities. The productivity levels of employees are examined by many remote working organizations using performance assessment and time management software. It might be expensive for many organizations to have such software, especially if their remote workers are fewer in number. The absence of oversight and responsibility could harm production rates. Efficiency rates and engagement will increase with regular phone calls, online communication apps, and technological monitoring and connection with staffs.
Employee Recognition: Since remote workers are not visible to physical workspaces. Many good aspects of the employee might get overlooked. If HR recommends remote workers for any award and recognition, other employees working physically in the workplace might question. Not all the employees will understand the process of identifying staff to award and recognize. Sometimes, due to this reason, HR keeps the remote worker exempted from other benefits and just puts them on the payroll. This might make remote staff salary-centric and not initiative-centric. In this case, HR could face difficulties to keep them motivated and get the best out of them. If HR wants to include remote workers in such engagement, different performance measures must be created along with other HODs which requires support from other managers.
Time Management: It is normal to have technical issues while working online. This might slow down the work sometimes and the deadline would be missed. So, HR has to pass the communication timely and follow up to make sure the job would be done on time. Communication online often creates confusion which might also delay the job. To equip the remote workers with extra backup would again be expensive, so preventive measures must be in place to have proper time management.
Bond Between Remote Workers and Management: Some positions like lawyer and project manager or graphic designer may work remotely. As they communicate with certain managers or HR officials, others might have a wrong perception of them and demand to decrease their salary or tag them as high-paid consultants. HR has to clarify their responsibilities to them. It would be more difficult if the owners of the company also consider them as unwanted or not needed. Here, HR needs to play the role of a bond between these staff and management to convey messages or information on their behalf.
In a country like ours, remote work was off the table till the pandemic kicked in. Over the past three years, organizations gradually understood that they can continue their operations remotely too. In one way, it is good that remote work has been promoted. A productive HR team can increase a remote workspace’s productivity to the expected level. At the same time, people have already understood the benefit of working remotely as it saves time as there is no need to travel. Many individuals are now demanding to have them as remote workers. As long as their services are acceptable while working remotely, companies should not mind allowing them to work remotely.
Ranjit is a Hospitality HR professional.