Two years ago, if we were asked to meet it was obvious that it will be an in-person interaction and only a few executives chose telephonic or web-meet.
Above all, the thought to manage an offshore resource seemed mysterious, a local point of contact to apprise on the development was required in some cases.
The start of 2020 was business as usual, executives budgeted their travel plans to meet and greet business partners, clients, and geographically-diverse teams. By the end of 2020, businesses redefined and rehashed their expectation:
- Technology access is part of the cost of living
- Travel budget optimisation
- More use of virtual meetings and web-based collaboration tools to build strong professional bonds
Through the pandemic, everyone realised the immaterial and non-essential nature of a few things that were considered a necessity earlier.
With the end of lockdowns across countries and high vaccination rates, managers who were once reluctant to leave the new normal became eager to return to the pre-pandemic state. What is more missed – the quick chat around coffee or xerox machines, or the Friday drink-outs or the walk-and-talk brainstorming sessions, or the open-door policy?
Should the focus be on employee well-being or the reviving of the self-imposed status symbol of managing a physical team?
Virtual vs. physical
In September 2020, McKinsey surveyed 800 corporate executives and found mixed views on working from home vs. office. The results observed that “[d]isruption period of workplace changes lies ahead due to acceleration of automation, digitization, and other trends”.
One thing that pandemic proved was that productivity can also be attained by working remotely. Collaboration was one thing that happened seamlessly during the pandemic, was this a result of lockdown or no-other option available scenario?
On the flip side, some managers complained about the loss of control and often advocated the benefits of work from office culture, getting their mojo back!
It is hard to deliver labor-intensive activities remotely including machine operation, customer transactions, etc. However, other activities like counselling, consulting, teaching, data processing can be done remotely.
While analysing the professions that need to run physically, Mckinsey in their November 2021 article stated “[C]ourtrooms have functioned remotely but are unlikely to remain online going forward out of concern for legal rights and equity—some defendants lack adequate connectivity and lawyers, and judges worry about missing nonverbal cues in video conferences.”
According to the research by Society for Human Resource Management (SMRH), “[m]ore than two-thirds of supervisors of remote workers, or 67 percent, admit to considering remote workers more easily replaceable than onsite workers at their organization, 62 percent believe full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives and 72 percent say they would prefer all of their subordinates to be working in the office”.
Apart from the ones that believe in maintaining the status quo through the in-person meeting, there are pro-office managers as well who too feel that work from office is required. “Not so that you can micromanage and ‘keep an eye on them’, but so you can understand where they might need more support,” they argue. “It’s easier to discern whether a team member might be struggling with a task when they’re sat in front of you. You just don’t get that visibility when they’re sat 30 or 40 miles away from you in their own home”, said James Rodger, a digital public relations lead in the London branch of British American global content agency.
A July 2020’s, HBR article titled “Remote Managers are Having Trust Issues” by Sharon K. Parker, Caroline Knight, and Anita Keller analysed the perception of managers by segregating them into two groups namely under 30 years and over 30 years of age. According to the article,
- 25% of managers under 30 years of age did not feel they can effectively coordinate a team of remote workers
- Only 12% of managers over 30 years of age had this lack of self-confidence
The article also pointed that, many managers are doubtful of the motivation of remote workers. Around 41% agreed to the statement, “I am skeptical as to whether remote workers can stay motivated in the long term”.
Empathy is the way to be
In a recent article, Breaking Free Of The Confined Legal Office: The Great Resignation, we observed that suboptimal balance can cause employees to suffer from anxiety, depression, burnout, and stress-related physiological ailments.
The relationship between employees and employers is very delicate, post-pandemic. Organisations need to read the signals, understand the current, and show strong commitment towards the workforce and the internal environment.