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By 3 June 2020 | Categories: news

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By Jacques du Toit, CEO of Vox 

The digital working environment is putting as much a strain on managers as it is on employees who have to remain productive and continually prove their value, especially during economically challenging times. Stress and anxiety have become commonplace as people struggle to balance their corporate responsibilities with their personal ones while at home. However, overcoming these challenges will give rise to a more skilled workforce that is better prepared for the business landscape of the future.

Even if they are spread across geographic locations, digital workers remain indispensable to the success of the organisation. But like a traditional office environment, there will always be those who try and be as productive as possible and those who feel that they just need to log in for the company to continue paying them.

Changing policies

In the case of the former, these individuals are willing to take on more tasks, get involved, and continue with their daily routines, whether they are operating remotely or on-premise. For their part, unproductive workers are simply unwilling to change their bad habits. An extreme example of this apathy is someone joining a video conference from their bedroom while still in their pyjamas at 08:00 in the morning.

The reality is that the digital workplace will only accelerate the divide between efficient and non-efficient workers. Employees need to understand that working remotely remains a privilege. If they do not adhere to the terms of their employment contracts, then the might of the HR department and labour laws will ensue. As such, a remote work policy will become a subset of the employment agreement. This is to protect both the employer and the employee from abuse or neglect.

For the company, it means that the employee adheres to all the corporate policies put in place. And for the individual, it ensures they do not overwork themselves (resulting in burnout) and can still have flexibility, freedom, and a personal life when working from home. While it remains difficult to predict how companies will evolve over the coming months, it would be advisable to embrace a blended approach to these changes and test it now to ensure that it becomes a sustainable approach going forward.

This will create a balance between those people who require frequent engagement whilst others can be left to their own devices to meet their daily objectives. What is certain is that establishing levels of structure and routine are critical components to helping employers manage staff.

Technology becomes an enabler insofar as the likes of fibre is an indispensable channel to equip people to do their jobs. It serves as the building blocks to use voice over IP, hosted PBX, team collaboration software, cybersecurity, and so on. Of course, employees must be trained on how to optimally use the tools at their disposal. But beyond the technologies at play, a true digital workplace still centres around the people and not just the bits and bytes.

Engagement strategies

To this end, there are several considerations to help drive engagement in a digital environment.

Firstly, the first few minutes of a one-on-one call should be spent just catching up with the employee and finding out how they are doing. Secondly, managers should never cancel these meetings as people value the connection and facetime, albeit through online means. This is especially the case when it comes to employees who live alone or environments that are not conducive to optimal efficiency. 

Here the strength of a company’s leadership really comes into play. Leaders need to assess which employees require a more hands-on approach and which ones can get the job done on their own. There will always be a risk of trying to micro-manage people. But it all really comes down to whether an employee is meeting their key performance indicators. If they are not, then it is time to review what value that person is bringing to the organisation. Times are tough for all companies and those not bringing measurable value to their organisations will be the first to be let go, let's be honest. 

Maintaining motivation

To help address this, teams (in conjunction with their managers) should consider collaborating on structuring the work week as optimally as possible. This is especially important with people not in an office environment where they would ordinarily pop over to a colleague’s desk to discuss project-related issues. While being careful of the risk of micro-managing, it is advisable to assist junior employees in breaking up their work days into small blocks that focus on key deliverables.

It will quickly become evident which employees rise to the challenge and which don't. These are typically the people who ignore phone calls, find excuses to avoid virtual meetings, and are just unwilling to become motivated. But by embracing a more structured and routine approach to a digital workplace, employees get the focus needed to channel their energy into positive outcomes.

Of course, there is no silver bullet approach to deal with employee productivity and wellbeing. Individuals are different and have unique circumstances in their lives that can impact on their work. For example, those with younger children causing frequent disruption might struggle to keep focused. There are also people who have poor connectivity with fibre not available in their area and are reliant on expensive mobile access. Some employees live in small apartments where it is not possible to have a dedicated or private area for work.

On the flip side, the individuals who have been performing well working remotely have a ‘safe space’ where they are able to disconnect from the rest of the household and focus on their deliverables. Furthermore, there is good infrastructure in place such as high-speed fibre connectivity and reliable backup power through a UPS or similar solution.

Clearly, the time has come for every manager and employee to prepare themselves for a fundamentally different way of doing things. A digital work environment is here to stay. It is now the responsibility of the individuals themselves to adapt to this new way of doing business. The cream will always rise.

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