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Sat 14 Mar 2020 10:55 AM

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The rise of the remote worker

It's better late than never for organisations to adopt remote working

The rise of the remote worker

Co-working spaces are rising in popularity around the world

What’s happening today is surreal; it feels like the makings of a Hollywood movie. But it isn’t. We’re all finding ourselves in uncharted territory, especially when it comes to work. It’s not “business as usual”, but we’ve taken steps to keep our employees safe and mitigate the risks surrounding this remarkable situation.

Why do I say that? It’s for two reasons. The first is a decision we made a number of years back. Given the effect that the digital transformation is having on business, and how it’s impacting our lives, we wanted to make a change. Our employees wanted the freedom to be able to work away from office and work flexibly. It’d allow them the freedom to do the right thing for their families as well as for the company.

As a result, we introduced Flexibility@Work almost two years back, in the summer of 2018, to meet this change in our work habits. Employees can work anywhere they wish, as long as they’ve agreed this with their manager. It was a bold decision, and we’re still a trendsetter when it comes to promoting remote working in the region.

However, what has also made me feel more confident in what we’re facing today was the reaction from our employees when we had introduced Flexibility@Work. Their response was overwhelmingly positive, and they appreciated the gesture. It made them feel more engaged at work, and also better able to meet family commitments.

While I certainly don’t feel that the region is unique in terms of retaining the traditional working practice of having employees come to an office and work set hours (44 percent of companies globally still don’t allow for remote work), there needs to be a rapid change. Companies who don’t adopt and adapt are going to find themselves increasingly outpaced by those who do institute forward-thinking HR practices. Pioneers in the flexible working space are going to be best placed to hire and retain talent.

Steps in the right direction

Given the situation we’re now in, and with governments and businesses advising people and employees to avoid travel and congested spaces, organisations are going to have to think differently about flexible working concepts. Here’s what they need to do:

Technology adoption: IT is the enabler. Employees will need both the tools – think laptops and smartphones – as well as the software to be able to remote work. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, given the restrictions found in a number of countries on VoIP technology. A number of tech firms have already seen the opportunity to provide web-based connectivity services at a discounted cost. Take up their offer, and start connecting your staff online.

A shift in mindset: Changing the technology is one thing, changing how people think is something else entirely. Giving people the opportunity to work out of eyesight can only happen if there’s trust between management and employees. And everyone has to be mindful of their responsibilities. What I care about is ensuring that results are achieved, not where they’re achieved from. For organizations that insist on people clocking in, and clocking out, this transition will be hard.

No one would have chosen what we find ourselves dealing with today. And yet, there’s an opportunity to speed up a change which I believe is necessary. We have the tools to remote work from anywhere. What needs to change is us as people and organisations.

Those who do make the shift to flexible working will benefit for years to come.

And for those who don’t, well I wish you’d have changed earlier.

Marc Pelletier, Middle East & Africa HR Vice President at Schneider Electric

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