As the reality dawned upon us that Covid-19 will be around for a lot longer than we’d expected or hoped, the future of the workplace became a huge topic of conversation. For Nearshore companies, whose premises and workforces stretch across a vast region, the need to implement comprehensive policies for working conditions was hampered by the varying impact the pandemic wrought in different regions.
Now, with the hybrid model looking to dominate our working future, the question of how to manage talent and deliver equal opportunities to those able or willing to return to the office, against those team members that will remain remote, has been raised. While we know that inclusivity improves a company’s performance, it may be harder to guarantee in the remote workplace where some faces are infrequently seen.
Reports have already been made on how the pandemic has reduced equality in the workplace. In July, the International Labor Organization stated that “fewer women than men will regain employment during the Covid-19 recovery”.
While any serious global company already has mechanisms in place to reduce the impact of discrimination, the hybrid model and the rise of remote work means that management will need to treat employees they’ll see at the office each day as fairly as those who remain at home.
A Local View
In Trinidad and Tabago, Leslie Lee Fook, director of AI, Automation and Analytics at INCUS Services, a Caribbean-wide B2B consultancy, is tackling this issue. With construction work happening at the company’s premises, INCUS’ remote work option, which was functioning prior to the pandemic, is currently mandatory. But when complete, offices could be sparsely populated, Fook explained.
“Over Covid we decided to remodel our office, and that’s still going on,” said Fook. “We held internal talks about whether we wanted to continue with the renovation considering the pandemic, and have decided to go ahead. After the work is complete, the office will once again be available for those workers who want to return, but we have decided to make that option totally voluntary.”
Whether all employees will feel safe to return to the office isn’t yet known. While tech companies including including Facebook and Google have come out to state that any employee returning to the office will need to be vaccinated, each organization must make the decision of their own. So far, INCUS doesn’t plan on making vaccinations a mandatory part of returning to the office.
Fook understands that the pandemic has made the work-life balance more difficult for some, impacting the performances of certain individuals. Parents who had to look after young children, those who became sick or anyone who needed to look after loved ones were all dealing with additional personal stress. The remote situation and the blur between work and personal life complicated matters. But the end result has been that certain employees have fallen off in performance, while others have thrived. They’ll be the ones who will be considered for promotion first.
“We’ve seen some strange stuff. There have been instances of top employees taking a dive in performance during the pandemic, whereas others have stepped up,” he said.
No More Water Cooler Conversations
“Having those frequent water cooler conversations, those more informal situations, certainly help build better relationships with people within the team. Remote workers won’t be able to do that,” said Fook.
The worry for remote workers is that they will be out of sight and out of mind. One administrative assistant recently told MarketWatch that “a lot of people are getting promotions – and most of them are in the office.”
A 2015 study carried out by Stanford Graduate School of Business showed that though remote workers’ productivity and work life improved, reducing resignations, their ability to receive a promotion was also hit.
“Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction, and their attrition rate halved, but their promotion rate conditional on performance fell,” the study said.
“Our performance review lean heavily on KPIs – it’s data driven” — Leslie Lee Fook
For Fook, one way to resolve this issue is to have more direct communication with team members and managers, whether that be a video call or messaging. “Communication needs to be more intentional. You can’t just bump into someone in the office now, you must seek them out,” he said.
This point also speaks to employees’ soft skills. Communication is the basis of all teamwork and as such is being dramatically re-thought from stakeholders in the business world. Indeed, business leaders recently told Nearshore Americas that that a lack of soft skills can directly impact the quality of an employee and their likelihood for promotional opportunities.
While the importance of soft skills is growing within the workplace, in many sectors of the Nearshore, like IT services or software development, technical skills remain the supreme metric for on the job performance. This is where INCUS will focus its efforts to sift between employees – whether remote or at the office – when promotional opportunities arise, said Fook.
“Our performance review lean heavily on KPIs – it’s data driven,” he said. “It’s what we’ve always found best demonstrates an employee’s ability, so that’s our main focus when we review or evaluate our people.”
Personal Organization Becomes Vital
“Because we’ve always had the option of remote working in the company, we’re familiar with the situation where key team members might not see each other in-person each day. That means we value the capacity for employees to work independently,” Fook explained.
But that doesn’t mean everybody has been good at it.
“In the past we found that those from a corporate background, who’re used to heading to the office and sitting at a desk from 9 – 5, have struggled with a remote set up,” he said.
Organization is now more important than ever. Without managers to look over the shoulders of employees, employees themselves must now take on the responsibility of getting work done. This demonstration of personality responsibility will be a huge factor in how employees are viewed, and whether they’ll be considered for opportunities like promotion, Fook said.