BusinessDay

Optimising remote work in post-Covid-19 new normal: A work-life discourse

The lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic evolved a new world order with several possibilities that point to the potency of remote work as a trajectory to helping corporate organisations and businesses achieve their ultimate bottom-line of optimising productivity.

Remote work became so integral to productivity during the COVID-19 lockdown, that it became indispensable to the operation of most organisations and businesses. A major reason why there were massive job and revenue losses may be attributed to the inability of organisations to maintain continuous operation at optimum productivity, as may have obtained prior to the pandemic. Whereas not all businesses or productive ventures may be amenable to remote work.

For instance, factory workers, technicians or artisans may need to be physically present for their work to be able to run smoothly. This, nevertheless, does not undermine the fact that remote work remains a veritable, but unoptimised trajectory to productivity.

As variously established by research, remote work affords a flexibility that engenders job satisfaction in employees. It also presents an opportunity to minimise work-life conflict, including its family, community and other social dimensions, all of which are potential contributors to stressors, strains and man-hour loss, that generates dissatisfaction in employees.

Remote work engenders a sense of control and independence, contrary to the alienation that tends to characterise the on-site work milieu, particularly in toxic, regimented, or exploitative work environments.

In Nigerian national commercial centre like Lagos, and to an extent, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt, people are forced to expend productive times in commuting, just in the bid to physically present themselves at the workplace. In extreme cases such as obtain in Lagos, Nigeria, people spend between one and ten hours in transit, daily, to and from their workplaces.

This has far-reaching implications for the physical, social and mental well-being of the people, aside from the toll on productivity. It is based on these seemingly inherent weaknesses of the traditional on-site work regime, that many corporate organisations gladly embraced remote work, in line with development in more developed climes.

However, in a seemingly post-pandemic era such as we are in, in Nigeria, there is the need to further consolidate on the potentials and benefits of remote work or its hybrid variant – where people combine on-site work with working remotely.

How? By enhancing the knowledge-base, skills, and psycho-social capacity by which employees adjust to new realities and/or negotiate the challenges due to oscillations or switches between different work regimes – which inhibits productivity amidst the flux of rapid changes in the post-COVID-19 society.

The effect of such oscillations and rapid changes produces psycho-social effects which may exert pressure, stress and strains on the employee, who may now have to ‘switch’ between various work regimes, generating a myriad of mental health outcomes with implications for optimum productivity.

To better manage these changes, SHRM recommended that each employee should work with his or her manager to determine an appropriate work arrangement, while managers should develop a work arrangement for each person who reports to them (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/covid19-in-office-and-remote-work-arrangements-policy.aspx).

This, however, requires personalised arrangement, tailored to meet the peculiar need of each staff as unique individuals in different situations, and with different needs. It demands that management becomes humanistic, beyond the dominant mechanical approaches to human resource management and the organisation of work generally. Soft skills such as work-life integration and mental health management strategies are more important than can be imagined. We must stop viewing such skills as luxuries, as they are necessary imperatives for the new normal.

The reality in most developing countries, however, is that employees are not provided the requisite support in terms of training, orientation and capacity building on how to manage the interfaces of life that tends to newly confront them in novel dimensions. Yet, such employees are expected to automatically be able to deliver on their work expectations.

Such a mechanical approach to human resource utilisation and management, negates the humanistic management of employees who are not just workers, but also human persons or personnel. This tendency was also amiss as employees went into the remote mode at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and during the lockdown.

With remote work and humanistic management of personnel, a lot more can be achieved in optimising productivity, while engendering more successful corporate organisations, families and a better society. Employee unity of life is enhanced as well as mental health, with enormous benefits for family members, colleagues, and associates across different spaces.

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