American Univesity of Beirut

Work Remotely or Perish: Reflections on the New Norm

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​98 out of 98 business community leaders from the Middle East supported working remotely post Covid-19, be it partially or full-time. These were the striking results of a poll conducted during a live webinar on the Future of Work (April 2020) from AUB OSB's Executive Education unit. Even as the lockdown eases, companies worldwide have started announcing the permanent adoption of remote work; some expect an adoption rate above 50% of their workforce. Giants such as Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, each on their own terms, have declared, via news outlets, their intention to shift.

Remote work has been witnessing an upward trend on a global scale for years now, with higher concentrations particularly in the knowledge and services economy, along with specific geographic locations. Similar to recent digital transformation trends, COVID-19 accelerated and expanded this trend across countries and industries, with more companies fast-tracking its full or partial adoption.

Why the hype
At the organizational level, cost-cutting and optimal performance are key considerations. First, it provides a reduction in overhead costs by up to 85% per year for any given company. The model also provides an ability to access a pool of human capital beyond the limited 50-km radius of the office location; allowing accessibility to top talent with zero relocation costs. Remote workers have also exhibited higher work engagement, with 41% less absenteeism, 21% more profitability, and 40% less quality work defects, according to a recent research by Gallup. Their productivity matches that of one office worker’s day per week, which is equivalent to an average of 50 working days per year. Furthermore, working remotely boasts benefits at the individual, environmental and developmental levels. Employees can use to their advantage the commute time to-and-from work, equivalent to sizeable 20-60 working days a year. It also reduces each commuter’s transportation costs, commute stress, accidents risks, and carbon footprint (by up to 98%). In fact, working remotely has proven to have positively contributed to 13 out of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and well-being, gender equality, economic growth, and climate action, among others. The proper adoption of this model ensures the attainment of the aforementioned benefits.

Reap the benefits
A strategic organizational approach is needed, whereby the establishment of the right framework is carried out through a collaborative effort between the company’s IT, HR and operations functions, along with the organization’s mobility team. 

Start with the essentials

Google gave each of its 45,000 employees a $1,000 work-from-home allowance during the coronavirus outbreak. The organization wanted to make sure its employees had an encouraging work set-up at home, whether it’s a docking station, a screen, a headset, and even an ergonomic chair.  As companies start with the essentials, they can look at key dimensions including minimum internet connection speed, whether the home set-up supports working remotely, and has the right tools, file access, maintenance and support expectations. The operations team also needs to work closely with the different business units to ensure that the business processes can be completed efficiently and remotely. Employees and managers need to go through development sessions on the best practices of working remotely.

Adopt a remote work policy
While many organizations are adopting or considering the adoption of remote working, very few have a relevant policy. The human resources department needs to review and update the company’s mobility policy that covers areas such as their positions’ eligibility to work remotely or other criteria related to home set-up. The process needs to be clearly laid out starting from the interested employee’s application up until the organization’s decision. Moreover, the policy should specify the number of eligible teleworking days, acceptable reasons if the position is not eligible, and its period if applicable. Other factors to consider working remotely include time flexibility, applicability, and responsiveness expectations. Finally, the policy should cover data privacy regulations and related security measures. Yet, the most critical dimension is still the level of change in the management approach.

Shift your mindset
Working remotely requires a change from the traditional time-based approach to a performance-based model relying mainly on managing by objectives. Executives need to clearly identify their performance and productivity expectations. This management approach requires a strong culture of trust, engagement, and accountability, and may be developed by fostering a sense of belonging and connection. Managers need to assure more frequent touch points either through the limited office time, or through more frequent online conference calls making time for chats before and after meetings, thereby emulating the water cooler catch-up discussions to support organizational culture.

Reinvent your work space
The abrupt reactionary shift to working remotely during the start of the pandemic could not immediately reveal its benefits, given that mostly neither the workforce nor the organizatio
ns were prepared. As this unprecedented era defines a new norm, the drastic restructuring on how we run our businesses requires the full support of a remote working model as a necessity for survival and business continuity. It is our responsibility to reimagine our new reality, and institutionalize proven ways as a step forward while reinforcing a culture of inclusion and accountability.

Click here​ to watch the related webinar on the subject.

© 2020 American University of Beirut, Olayan School of Business. All rights reserved.​

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