With the recent pandemic – COVID-19, and the uncertainty and risk arising from the spread of this virus, businesses are facing a host of new challenges. Companies are being forced to adjust their operating model and encourage more remote work to reduce the spread of the virus.
While this “new way of working” is seamless for some, it can be anarchic for others since organizations now have to determine which means of technological configurations can be used to continue operations without compromising their value and profit.
Thus far, the current pandemic has affected every continent except Antarctica. More than 200,000 cases have been reported and more than 8,000 people have succumbed to the illness in over 100 countries, including seven Caribbean islands, according to Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Companies are pushing for telecommuting programs in the midst of Government shutdowns. Live updates are available here.
But how practical is working from home for most employees? Is the virtual organization a new organizational form? In recent times, the world of work has been evolving and expanding to include more online workers. BlueFace predicts that by 2025, remote working will compete with office locations. Online Entrepreneurs including coaches and consultants have been growing their businesses through online platforms for years.
Now, many employers are realising that work doesn’t have to be solely at an office and Covid-19 creates an opportunity to re-define company culture and policy surrounding flexible working hours and #remotework.
Essentially, every facet of our societies has already been impacted as countries urge their citizens to avoid travelling and limit physical contact. The terms ‘social distancing’ and ‘quarantine’ have become the trending language across the globe. Apart from the obvious social impact, the economic impact is equally noteworthy. The global stock markets are tumbling, and economies are trampling what is now shaping up to become a financial crisis.
The World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that the travel and tourism industry will take a major hit, threatening about 50 million jobs worldwide. Cruise Lines are suspending their port calls, countries are restricting access and airlines are suffering major losses. With this industry accounting for 10% of global GDP, it looks like a long road to recovery after this pandemic is over.
Whilst working online is different from a virtual organization, it is important to note that working from home is a form of a virtual organization. Understanding the configurations of the virtual organization is complex and beyond the scope of this article.
Flexjob Survey 2020 noted that virtual office comes commonly in countries with high-income levels and Owl Labs states that remote work is not the future, it is the present. Since more people are working from home, there is an issue of accountability. How do managers supervise employees they do not see? How can they adjust? Working virtually creates the need for a new form of communication since you will now have to take into consideration the cross-cultural factors, geographical factors, time-zone and technological competencies of the staff or students. This transition may be challenging in the beginning but not impractical.
According to Binder (2007) “trust is at the heart of global team management”. If you do not have trust amongst your team members then your communication, management and leadership may be affected. The managers will need to consider inter-cultural factors when communicating since they will no longer be interacting face-to-face.
For some companies, interactions and engagement with clients is essential and not being able to monitor staff can be tough for managers who are not accustomed to delegating. There will be an issue of loss of position power and authoritative leadership. Nonetheless, think of this period as an opportunity to upgrade your model to advanced technology and build more cohesive teams.
To improve virtual communication, organizations leaders/manager should:
- Consider the cross-cultural dimensions;
- Set clear goals and objectives;
- Outline roles and responsibilities;
- Create monitoring and evaluation schedule to ensure that all staff are working during allocated hours;
- Meet regularly to share ideas;
- Create an opportunity to build trust since this is the glue that binds teams together and fuels productivity
Despite the apprehension and possible drawbacks, there are several benefits.
- Increased employee morale: according to FlexJob survey 2020 report, 90% of employees reported increase satisfaction from having this flexibility;
- Businesses can easily take advantage of new business opportunities, reach out to global clients in order to tap into the global market;
- Increased productivity from motivated staff 66% of Flexjob survey 2020 stated that their productivity improved when they are not in an office;
- Increase the retainment of long-term employees;
- It’s easier and faster to conduct surveys to get feedback on your product/service.
Below are some of my suggested strategies for coping during this period:
For Product-based businesses and corporate organizations:
- Adjust your budget to account for new resources to accommodate remote work
- Use collaborative technology to share regular updates
- Implement a time tracking app like Toggl.com.
- Some people prefer water cooler talks = host weekly social conferences to keep staff motivated
- Assign staff to manage client expectations by checking in with clients;
- Upgrade your security system since online work exposes your sensitive data. For EU member states: review your GDPR system to ensure compliance;
- Create weekly meetings to monitor and evaluate business progress;
- Create an onboarding system for new clients;
- Send regular email updates re changes
- Ensure staff do not feel isolated by hosting team meetings
For full-time online coaches and consultants:
- Create an onboarding system or new clients;
- Ensure that you reach out to all clients to inform them of changes;
- Teach more about what you do online;
- Learn a new skill;
- Create a deeper connection with your community through emails and social updates;
- If you are spending more time at home, use it to review your offers
- Create a new work schedule to help maintain productivity;
- Assess your business progress – look at programs that can create more income-producing activities;
- Brainstorm and organize the creative idea you have been putting off for so long.
The downside for organizations is that they must now ensure employees are performing with the same efficiency whilst at home. By adopting this model, companies expose themselves to new risks by going beyond domestic borders. Some challenges include:
- Increased operational costs;
- Virtual teams can be less effective than traditional teams. For example, virtual teams often take longer to get started in meetings and to produce results than many traditional teams do. (Duarte & Snyder 2007);
- Need for new IT infrastructure;
- Lower technological competencies amongst staff and the slow learning curve;
- Isolation caused by separation from the office (Kurland and Baily);
- Limited assimilation of information and decision-making analysis.
In summary, to see the effectiveness of online work, you need good leadership skills and self-discipline. If you currently don’t have a business, now is the perfect time to start one! If you have to be quarantined inside your house all day, what better way to spend your time?
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