A virtual workforce in the new normal
In just a matter of a few months, billions of lives around the world have changed. The way we work. The way we travel. The way we buy necessities for our everyday use. Everything has changed. While some of these changes are temporary, others may prove lasting. COVID-19 changed the way we perceive life as we know it.
With a worldwide death toll of over six hundred thousand (at the time of writing this article), this incredibly contagious virus has managed to bring the world to its knees. While many of us are still working from home, there is also a significant number of people who have lost their jobs and are looking for new ones. These people worry about not enough money to feed them and their families three squared meals a day. With unemployment on the rise, the world is heading towards a global recession. As the death toll steadily rises, we continue to do our bit and keep maintaining distance from one another, whether it is the park, out shopping, or in our places of worship.
In the past few months, the phrase ‘The New Normal’ has been tossed around a lot in the news and various articles. What does this phrase mean? The phrase refers to the changes in our daily lives due to this pandemic. It also refers to the fact that even after the pandemic is over, people are still going to continue with these changes and it is going to take the world a long time to change back into what it used to be.
What’s next? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. The future is not what we thought it would be a few months ago. Remote work has taken over the corporate world by storm and it is here to stay. Companies can now recruit talents globally rather than having a physical standing headcount. This means that any deserving candidate with a good internet connection can now work with minimum to no formalities. But maintaining corporate culture in a remote working environment is a rather difficult task. This could result in new jobs like a ‘Culture Officer’, who is in charge of this.
Virtual and digital replacing the physical would pave the way for more such innovative business practices. A surge in the usage of artificial intelligence and augmented reality along with virtual reality and the adoption of automation can be very clearly observed. The winners in the corporate sector will be determined by who deploys computing power, bandwidth, cybersecurity, and cloud computing efficiently. It is high time for companies to figure out to organize work to a remote and distributed workforce.
The problem is not solved even after the corporates take up the above-mentioned steps. They still have to look after their employees to ensure efficiency even during these tough times. The following are some suggestive steps that can be taken up by the corporates.
- Allow workers to take the equipment that they use at work, home on a temporary basis.
- Provide teleworkers with guidance on setting up a workstation at home.
- Encourage workers to take regular breaks (around every 30 minutes) to stand up, move, and stretch.
- Ensure that there is good communication at all levels that includes those working from home.
- Do not underestimate the risk of workers feeling isolated and under pressure, which in the absence of support can lead to mental health problems.
- Be aware that your employee may have a partner who is also teleworking or children who may need care as they are not at school, or who need to connect remotely to continue their schoolwork. Others may need to care for elderly or chronically ill people and those that are in confinement. In these circumstances, managers will need to be flexible in terms of working hours and productivity of their staff and will need to make the workers aware of their understanding and flexibility.
- Assist workers in setting healthy boundaries between work and free time by communicating clearly when they are expected to be working and available.
The first thing that we have to do is stop assuming that the good old days are going to come back. This is a new reality. Around 30% of the jobs all over the world can be shifted to a remote work environment. But the rest 70%, not so much. We are still going to require hands-on labour for a majority of industrial-based jobs. In places like these, we are going to have to minimize the exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible. The following things can be done to ensure that.
- Carry out only essential work for the time being. It may be possible to postpone some work to when the risk is lower.
- Ensure that only workers who are essential to the job are present at the workplace and minimize the presence of third parties.
- Reduce, as far as possible, physical contact between workers (e.g. during meetings or during breaks).
- Isolate workers who can carry out their tasks alone safely and who do not require specialized equipment or machinery that cannot be moved.
- Eliminate, and if not possible limit, physical interaction with and between customers.
- When delivering goods, do so through pick-up or delivery outside the premises.
- Place an impervious barrier between workers, especially if they are not able to keep a two-meter distance from each other. Barriers can be purpose-made or improvised using items such as plastic sheeting, partitions, mobile drawers, or storage units.
- If close contact is unavoidable, keep it at a minimum.
- Arrange the timing of meal breaks to reduce the number of people sharing a cafeteria, staff room, or kitchen.
- Supply soap and water or appropriate hand sanitizer at convenient places and advise workers to wash their hands frequently.
- Facilitate workers’ use of individual rather than collective transport, for example by making available car parking or a place for storing bicycles securely, and encouraging workers to walk to work, if possible.
Yes, all these guidelines and rules do make everything seem like it is straight out of a dystopian film. Yes, having a work-life in current times is hard. Yes, we all wish that things went back to the way it was before. But it won’t. Not now. Not in the near future. This is the reality of our today. This is the new normal.