For the past year and a half, employees across the country and indeed the world have found themselves in the unusual position of working from home. But now that some sort of normality is returning to our lives, many industry bosses are keen for their staff to put in a physical presence at the office – however, an overwhelming majority would like to continue working remotely in some way or other.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, the nature of work has changed as, for many businesses, Covid has accelerated the move to remote working,” says Karen Hernández, Senior Executive – People & Management Pillar – with Enterprise Ireland. “Overall, this has been a positive move as many companies have found that productivity has remained the same or even increased during this period.
“A recent survey, conducted by the Whittaker Institute and NUI Galway, found that 95% of respondents would like to work remotely at least some of the time – and with this in mind companies are now seeking to set up appropriate means of supporting remote, hybrid and flexible working.”
But while this new landscape brings both opportunities and challenges, Hernández says companies should also consider how to address some of the medium-term HR and management challenges now facing their business.
“Possible issues include looking at ways to implement flexible working to suit both the business and the employees, utilising office space while many are working remotely and motivating managers and employees while they are engaged in work outside of the office,” says Hernández
“In addition, staff may be anxious about returning to the workplace, so it is also important to consider health and well-being supports and be aware that remote working attracts the same rights and responsibilities as office-based work in terms of pay, benefits, health and safety and work time.
“But where businesses are employing staff from other jurisdictions, they need to be clear that the employment rights, which govern the terms and conditions of employment, are those of the country where the individual is physically working.”
No one-size fits all model
The people management expert says while research indicates that a majority of employees want to keep working remotely, in some format, employers must understand that they run the risk of losing their best talent if they force everyone back to the office.
“Transitioning to a fully remote or hybrid work model may seem easy as we have all been doing it for 18 months,” she says. “But in reality, getting remote and hybrid working right for the long-term is actually very complex and requires significant planning and communication with employees.
“Firstly, companies really need to consider what’s best for them as a business as well as their employees. What’s right for one company may not be right for another, so a good starting point is to survey managers and staff to understand their needs. Then companies need to review and consider how easy it will be for employees to carry out responsibilities remotely – flexibility is key here as what works for one person, may not work for another.”
New skills needed
Maintaining engagement and motivating staff is incredibly important and Hernández says that managers need to develop new skills to engage employees in remote and hybrid work environments.
“There needs to be regular two-way communication, via surveys, focus groups and all-hands meetings,” she says. “This is essential going forward and companies need to establish a culture of trust, with value placed on deliverables rather than on input or time spent online.
“In addition, managers need to have the skills to lead and manage remotely – and this may require some additional training. So, companies need to look out for signs of stress and over-work among employees as it is more difficult to spot in a remote environment. Indeed, many are reporting that the merging of work and home life is making it difficult to switch off outside work hours and this is exacerbated when the work culture is focused on presenteeism, as employees feel that their time is being monitored.”
Support from Enterprise Ireland
Enterprise Ireland is aware that companies may need assistance when it comes to ensuring a smooth return to the office or developing an efficient hybrid or remote working model. So in in conjunction with Voltedge Management Ltd, it has developed Emerging through Covid-19: The Future of Work to help Irish companies to consider and reflect on these and other HR challenges they are likely to face over the coming months.
“Its purpose is to help business leaders to understand how the world of work has changed over the past year and consider the impact these changes may have on the expectations and motivations of both current and prospective employees,” says Karen Hernández. “Our intention is to provide insight into good HR practice and to encourage businesses to think about what approaches or responses may be right for them.”