Evolution of Work

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Tips to managing the biggest workplace experiment in history

Around the world, there has always been a sense of stability when it came to the workplace. A fully-equipped office with operation times, ample space for all employees and structures in place to support every function required to make your business a success. The bulk of employees adhered to the 9-to-5 working-from-the-office structure, with only a few employees enjoying a flexible schedule and working from home. Face-to-face communication has always been considered key to the success of a business but with the arrival and dangers associated with the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, business, as usual, was no longer an option.
Devashnie Singh

A brand-new way of doing business


Probably considered to be the biggest workplace experiment in history, companies had to be ready for a brand-new way of working overnight. Easier for some companies than others, based on size and set-up, there were many things to consider such as productivity, connectivity, accountability, employee morale and the management of teams. The role of people partners was critical during this transformation, and will definitely play a key role in positioning the new way of working in a post-Covid-19 environment.

Initially, there were a lot of considerations and questions to tackle in the early days of remote working, with the most important one being understanding the circumstances of your employees – do they have unlimited connectivity during the workday, do they have a quiet place to work from and how are they finding a balance between their home life and work life? At Grey, we decided the best approach was to lead with empathy; we communicated clearly and stayed calm. Of course, it took us a few days to find our feet, but we have learned a great deal from this crisis. While there have been some challenges, we have also noticed great results when it comes to productivity and the overall wellness of our staff.

In my experience, working remotely brought the following to the forefront:

  1. A better work-life balance

  2. The ability to balance the two worlds of personal and professional has always been significant to feeling happier and more productive at work, but most people do battle to find this balance. Just by being able to save time that would otherwise be spent on a long commute allows employees to have better work-life balance. It can add hours back into their days. A new challenge we could be facing, though, is the lack of boundaries in this new environment. Colleagues need to still be respectful regarding contacting colleagues after working hours.

  3. More freedom

  4. Remote working allows for employees to work from anywhere at any time. This allows them to structure their day to accommodate some time for a soccer game at their child’s school where previously, they would have had to apply for leave. They are even able to work from the soccer game or catch up on work later in their day. It is still important to have some virtual communication guidelines to inform staff of specific working hours and response-time limits. Communication remains the cornerstone of every company and, therefore, employees need to clearly communicate with their team members or managers when they are unavailable for some time – it just reinforces the mutual respect in a team environment.

  5. Improved employee well-being

  6. With the elimination of commuting, the lunch rush and long hours in the office, remote working can improve the health and wellness of employees. It greatly reduces stress and even enables employees to go for a walk, visit the gym or just to catch up on some lost sleep.

    People partners do, however, need to stay in touch with staff to assist those who have been battling to adjust to this new way of working. Some individuals can battle with the lack of social interaction and staying at home for long periods. For these employees, it can be hard for them to be as efficient as when they’re in a very structured environment. Solutions to these challenges should be investigated for these staff members, and they could probably greatly benefit from a structured week with the opportunity for them to work from the office for a few days a week.

  7. Increased productivity

  8. Grey Africa, conducted a study to establish how employees are adapting to the new way of working and especially how it affects performance. The data shows that when employees can skip the extra coffee breaks, a long commute and any other distractions to focus on their work, productivity reigns supreme. Human capital can assist those individuals who battle to settle down by introducing online tools that can help them focus; for example, noise cancellation software, website blockers and setting timers can help to create internal work discipline.

    It is important to always remember that you are working with people and while the bulk of individuals are showing greatly improved work-life balance, an increase in productivity and better overall well-being, there are possibly some individuals who are battling with the new nature of work. A one-size-fits-all approach will never work for everyone, so it remains critical to have open communication channels and regular check-ins with employees to assist them where it is required. We are experiencing shifts in so many facets of life – from family and community to work and how we socialise. I believe remote working is here to stay and is going to be the new mantra/culture of investment in people.

In closing:

  • Mental health or support for mental health will be better embraced in the ‘new normal’. If anything, Covid-19 has forced companies to recognise the increase in mental health issues and the importance of creating awareness around it. There is a greater focus for companies on providing solutions, employment benefits and programming to help employees.
  • Companies that offer a flexible working arrangement, such as full, half, or partial remote work, could make the difference for a candidate selecting their next career move.
  • Leadership skills are going to improve considerably. This crisis has proven that we need to lead with empathy. In these tough times, the leaders who communicate clearly, stay calm and strong and demonstrate empathy will be most effective.
  • Employers are also increasing support to their employees. Companies are learning just how important employee engagement and motivation are, regardless of where they are working from, and this knowledge will inform a greater level of support for employees.

Managing a virtual team doesn’t have to be difficult. Employers need to look closely at the challenges faced by employees, try to understand each unique situation and be open-minded when providing solutions. The pandemic has put human capital at the front line of each company, and it is our role to help our organisations navigate the positives and challenges caused by this pandemic.

About the author

Devashnie Singh is the Chief People Officer at Grey Africa.
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