Remote working is not a silver bullet for the Coronavirus crisis

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The COVID-19 crisis means that it’s inevitable most employees who can need to work from home. But Carlos Ruiz, managing director of Portas Global, warns that the practice is not the “Holy Grail” answer that everyone is seeking

The threat of the virus spreading is amplified through social interaction and as the numbers of people around the world being diagnosed positive everyday increases, employers managing a global workforce are having to change tact on the way that business is being conducted in home office environments.

This is easier said than done. A remote work lifestyle will have its own set of challenges and the early adopters to this style of work will be far better placed to cope with the government health advisory imposed changes.

For more than fifteen years, I have worked in businesses that engage global teams across the world and it’s no surprise that 99% of employees engaged by Portas Global on behalf of our customers under our Professional Employment Outsourcing (PEO) model are global remote workers.

But for those whose lives have been thrown into turmoil because of Coronavirus, and its life-changing implications, I would just throw out a few cautionary measures: remote working is not a silver bullet to overcome everyday HR challenges.

The benefits to remote working are undeniable. Fiscal, environmental, lifestyle and from a corporate perspective, socially responsible.

The majority of employees around the world who currently work like that at least one day per week know this, otherwise they wouldn’t have adopted the practice. The underlying reason for the success of this model is choice and trust.

However, for many employees, choice is no longer the case and if you were not an early adopter of the remote workforce movement then you need to be aware of the pitfalls.

We are advocates of remote working but it is not something that can be implemented overnight simply because you have access to technology. Planning and change management strategies are critical at the early stages of the transition.

Self-isolation and social distancing are not natural behaviours for human beings and certainly not conducive to peak work performance. It’s easy to feel like you are part of the “bigger picture” when you are in the office, brainstorming and being in contact with your colleagues.

Work away from the office and its structure and good practices can quickly unravel. Working remotely, it can be very difficult to disconnect yourself and step away. Especially when you know there are pending tasks that need completing.

You need to set yourself boundaries for work hours, mental breaks, exercise and healthy eating habits. Studies have shown that remote workers are often more productive than those who work in an office but unfortunately not everyone has the natural self-discipline to work well remotely.

Distractions at home, especially if there are demanding young children around or even pets, can create another set of problems. Take a positive approach and consider how many times you might have wished to spend more time with the family. Turning negatives to positives will go a long way into a successful transition to remote working.

Angelina Ebeling, founder and CEO of Acework.io, a remote work matching platform that connects vetted talent with remote career opportunities says: “Remote work doesn’t equal social isolation. In fact, it usually allows us to lead more inclusive and balanced lives.

“The current situation puts a strain on experienced remote workers as well, who normally aren’t confined to their homes, together with their partner, kids and pets.

"We see employees’ mental health already affected and it’s upon leaders to provide psychological safety. It’s crucial to build a work environment that establishes trust, consistency and certainty for all remote employees.”

From a practical perspective, online security and a robust and reliable internet connection is paramount to comply with many data privacy regulations as well as important daily video communication activity.

Working on a kitchen table and chair is not the ideal environment and office lighting is often an underrated requirement. As springtime looms, open some windows and listen to nature and the world revolve around you. Your office colleagues may not be next to you but you are certainly not alone.

When everything returns to normality let's learn from the lessons and focus on what will make remote working a natural extension to the office environment.

As an employer this imposed transition will be challenging but you will swim instead of sinking if you embrace the proper implementation approach of a remote workforce.

For global employees who have not chosen this mode of work initially, it will be important to assure them that they will be paid accurately and in accordance with local regulations so that their social insurance safety nets are not impacted.

Carlos Ruiz is managing director of payroll, taxes and HR consultancy Portas Global.

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