At first, I hesitated to write about work from home (WFH). Much has already been written and said about it. The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has made it necessary and many organizations have immediately migrated to WFH. The quarantine or lockdown is one of the major reasons why employees work from home today. To benefit from this new arrangement, organizations must rethink clearly their goal for WFH, adopt WFH as part of their culture, and adapt the leadership and the corporate culture to the new realities of the times.

Work from home

I do not believe that the Covid-19 pandemic started the craze we now call WFH. Roughly two years ago, our lawmakers enacted Republic Act 11165, or the “Telecommuting Law,” which encouraged private companies to allow their employees to work from home. The pandemic just made it more necessary today.

Like it or not, the big city offices or high-rise headquarters are getting to be a thing of the past. The global tech giants are leading the way in showing why flexible work arrangements, including WFH or remote working, are viable options — with or without Covid-19.

According to a post, Facebook would allow its employees to work from home until the end of 2020, even as its founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Facebook was aggressively opening up remote hiring in July 2020. In the next five to 10 years, its employees will have to do their job outside Facebook’s offices.

Google, Mastercard, Amazon, Microsoft, Royal Bank of Scotland and Spotify allow their staff to work from home up to October or end of 2020. Barclays’ 70,000 staff currently work from home. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, has already offered their staff the option of working from home permanently.

Challenges to WFH

Implementing WFH is not simply about telling employees to stay at home, providing them the tools and asking them to submit reports. While infrastructure and other structural adjustments are critical, there is also a risk of loss of efficiency and productivity, frustration among employees on WFH arrangement, need for socialization, etc. To realize the full potential of WFH, successful migration from office routine to online work, you need clear guidelines, real commitment from both bosses and subordinates, and visible top management support and leadership.

Cybercrime has increased in Europe and the Americas during the Covid-19 outbreak. For WFH to succeed as a business strategy, this requires in-depth security and structural adjustments. It also needs total commitment from employees to securely navigate their work tools.

With remote working, the boundaries between home and office, between work and private life, become blurred. The employee plays multiple roles simultaneously — employee, mother, teacher, tutor, cook, housekeeper, etc. Aside from productivity concerns, long duration isolation of employees, unless properly addressed, could pose a serious threat to collaboration and teamwork, to the much needed communication (upward, downward and sideways) and socialization that usually exist in a big office environment. Both CEOs and human resources (HR) managers must find creative ways to allow WFH to continue in an environment where there is physical distancing but where the social connection continues to flourish. This helps enhance employee productivity, well-being, social awareness and mental health.

Leadership needs

In the “new normal” world of WFH, leadership is even more crucial. Business leaders must have a clear vision of the future and why they must adopt WFH and other flexible working arrangements. Surviving Covid-19 is not a goal, per se. They must look beyond the pandemic and understand why remote working is needed. Is it to reduce office space, optimize commuting or usher the organization into a new culture? I suggest that the vision and goal should be more compelling than simple cost-saving.

Once the vision is clear, the leaders must develop new ways of doing things, and communicate the same in a way that they will get buy-in from employees and other stakeholders. This could mean developing a new culture of “work anywhere, anytime” to satisfy customers’ needs. While there will hardly be the usual face-to-face sales meetings, reaching out to teams must be made more frequent than before. Leaders must learn to optimize their calendars, plan regular and spontaneous feedback rounds, and do more pep talks (or notes) to teams and employees in real time. Don’t wait for one year to do performance appraisals — do them in real time. Constant and more substantive communication, direction setting and direction-changing, feedback, and words of inspiration — these and more are necessary to build trust and successfully roll out a new culture and ways of doing things.

Remote working or WFH will be here to stay. For those who did WFH hastily as a response to Covid-19, they need to reboot their system to make it a long-term viable solution. They need to adapt their leadership and their corporate culture accordingly. Like it or not, businesses will be operated more and more virtually — for employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders in your ecosystem.

Return on investments

Remote working or WFH offers mutual benefits for employers and employees. Over the long term, businessmen will need lesser real estate to house their employees. There will be fewer business trips, lesser commuting and employees can have longer time with their families. Moreover, the new way of working allows for great HR opportunities in managing the workforce and developing a renewed boost to collaboration and teamwork in the organization.

Despite several versions of what the new normal will look like, it is safe to say that WFH will not go away. No one knows today to what extent we will go back to the old ways of working. Leaders must think of ways to generate a return on investments (ROI) in implementing WFH in their organizations.

One techie guru suggested that businessmen and managers must “think about the potential of investments in WFH in the following terms: 1) a new operational model based on higher flexibility and more agile and remote ways of working; 2) a new corporate culture that is more connected internally and externally, and where an analysis of collaboration can provide valuable data; 3) an alignment of business goals to the new cultural standard and employee expectations; and 4) data driven methods of analysis to get deeper insights into new learning patterns, employee sentiments, etc.”

If you have to implement WFH, do it right the first time. Have a clear goal for doing it. Put people first among all considerations. Clarify the rules and guidelines. Communicate to all stakeholders. Adapt your leadership and corporate culture to the changing times that called for the implementation of WFH. Reap the benefits from WFH, including your ROI.

Ernie is the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines’s Human Capital Committee, co-chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines’s Technical Working Group on Labor Policy and Social Issues, and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]