With the outbreak of deadly coronavirus all across the world, global companies like Google, LinkedIn, Amazon, Twitter and may others have already asked all or a portion of their employees to stay at home and operate from there.
Following the suite some of the multinationals working in Bangladesh have also taken the similar call.
Given the circumstances, this could probably be the best option a responsible company could choose to ensure safety of its staff and at the same time ensuring the business continuity.
Working from home is not a new concept. History suggests, before the Industrial Revolution, going back to the beginning of the Middle Ages in the fifth century, there were over 1,300 years of home-based work.
During those days, merchants and craftspeople created what might be described as the first home offices. These hybrid work-homes had street-facing shops or workshops, and private areas set aside for day-to-day living.
Industrial Revolution apparently pulled workers out of their homes. This was the time when big factories were set up. Large scale productions required employees to be present physically at the factories to accomplish their tasks. The concept of "office" emerged.
With the advent of internet and advancement of telecommunication technologies in the 80's "work from home" concept started regaining its momentum.
Data from the US Census shows that, there were 5.2 per cent or 8 million workers in the US working from home in 2017.
In the 90s the US Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration started an experiment on "work from home" following an order from President Clinton known as "flexible family-friendly work arrangements".
About 550 employees took part in that experiment.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report in 1997 showing the benefits included: reduced commuting time; lower personal costs for transportation, parking, food, and wardrobe; improvement in the quality of work life and morale; and a better balance between work and family demands.
Recent studies have supported the idea that working from home -- for the right people -- can increase productivity and decrease stress.
Research also suggests companies that encourage and support a work-from-home protocol actually save money in the long run -- an added bonus on the employer side.
A survey titled "Evaluating Attitudes about Flexible Work," revealed following: 81 per cent of the respondents agreed that an organisation offering a flexible work programme positively differentiates one company from another. 67 per cent of those surveyed noted they would be more loyal to companies that provided them with the option of flexible work. 87 per cent of employees who have ever worked remotely responded that they are just as productive, if not more when working out of the office. 56 per cent said that having a flexible work option would motivate them to work harder.
There are plenty of studies conducted to ascertain the benefits of flexible workplace.
One such study titled "Work Without Walls" conducted by Microsoft unveiled the following top benefits: better work-life balance; energy/fuel savings because of less commuting; better productivity; less distractions; and less stress for the employees as they can avoid long commute.
Although for many organisations and many countries this concept is not new, however, for us here in Bangladesh this is relatively a new way of working.
Now let's focus on what the organisations and the employees need to do in order to make "work from home" effective.
This is obvious that, not all work or tasks can be done remotely.
Therefore, for any organisation it all starts with identifying the tasks that can be done remotely. Then comes the step of developing a standard operating procedure, known as SOP, which fundamentally refers how to accomplish the tasks.
Thereafter, organisations need to identify the required tools like internet connectivity, laptops or computers, scanners, printers and other audio-visual devices that would enable employees to deliver their tasks effectively.
One common concern about home office is lack of coordination, which ultimately hampers teamwork.
People who are sceptical often refers to the saying, "out of sight, out of mind".
This shortcoming can also be overcome by having a proper review and monitoring process in place.
With the availability of audio-video conferencing facility, physical distance is no more a challenge.
This facility is as effective as face-to-face meeting or interactions.
Once in a while the employee should be called to the office for any team event. This will help to strengthen engagement with the colleagues.
Last but not the least, a well-defined Key Performance Indicators is extremely critical to drive results.
There are certain challenges and risks associated that could hamper operations. These include: internet connectivity, malfunctions of systems both hardware and software, and more importantly cyber threat.
To face these challenges, organisations should be extremely vigilant to ensure system is up and running.
As an alternative, a Plan-B has to be ready so that business continuity is ensured.
To tackle cyber threat there should be adequate security measures to be built into the overall IT infrastructure of the company.
The employees, on the other hand, have certain responsibilities to make "work from home" effective.
An employee must recognise that this should be as good as working from office.
And a few things would help:
- Everyone should have a work schedule and has to be stick to that.
- A proper workstation with comfortable furniture helps in concentrating on the job.
- Avoid any kind of distractions like entertaining guest or watching TV or playing with the kids while working. If someone has a child to look after, make a schedule so that you are aware when to do what.
- Keep the logistics like electricity connections and other tools functioning.
- Plan your breaks.
- Keep constantly in touch with your supervisor, peers and other stakeholders.
Work from home is a reality now even in our country.
Therefore, first and foremost, the employers as well as the employees should have the proper mind set to embrace this concept.
The writer is the chairman and managing director of BASF Bangladesh