Since November, there has been a steady influx of COVID-19 vaccines in the market. While most claim that everyday and work life will return “back to normal”, the distribution and vaccination of large populations will not be immediate.1 The specifics of this will also vary country to country. The likely work life scenario, therefore, seems to be the introduction of a hybrid work model, including both remote and in-office hours. While adopting this hybrid model might be appealing to some organisations, transitioning to this model will provide 2 key challenges as well.
1. Unproductive remote environments
Although a recent survey found that 37% of employees are excited about the new remote option, many remote employees still struggle with productivity.2 In fact, employees with childcare obligations or elderly dependents (e.g., parents and grandparents) often find themselves taking more time to achieve the same level of productivity at home compared to in-office environments. This is because unproductive and distracting remote work environments often increase and average employees remote working hours.3 Furthermore, longer working hours result in employee burnout.4
To increase employee wellbeing and productivity, organisations need to address employee concerns and provide support to create a better remote work environment. Some companies have started to provide options for these concerns. For example, to ease the transition to remote work, multinational ecommerce company Shopify offered a $1,000 stipend to its employees to purchase any necessary home office supplies.5 Software company Buffer has also begun offering a $500 stipend to help their employees set up their home offices. The company also reimburses coworking memberships and coffee shop working purchases for added flexibility.6 As certain organisational expenditure costs such as real estate and property upkeep decrease with the new hybrid model7, monetary support may be a viable option for some companies.
2. Digital divide
Digital transformation in the workplace has been moving at unprecedented speeds and the “digital divide” between age groups is becoming clearer than ever. “Digital divide” refers to the tendency for middle aged and older adults (36 years and older) to be less likely to use the internet than younger adults (35 years and below).8 Digital illiteracy among middle aged and older adults is a hefty disadvantage for current organisations as data from May 2020 found that global internet traffic increased by 60% and videoconference traffic by 120%.9 This means that employees that lack digital and internet literacy will likely struggle with communicating and working remotely. This struggle can have negative effects on an employees wellbeing such as technophobia, technostress, and perceived usefulness.8 In fact, a global 2020 survey found younger employees (50%) working remotely felt more valued by their employers than older employees (24%).10
While it is inaccurate to generalise that all middle aged to older employees struggle with technology, constant digital upskilling is an important tool for any employee to keep up with the present rate of technological advancements. However, it appears most companies have fallen short to address this gap. Statistics from 2008 have shown that there has been a downward trend in employer-paid digital training for nearly a decade.11 This digital stagnation was highlighted when some organisations struggled to adapt to online platforms during the lockdowns while companies with a high degree of digitisation pre-COVID 19, such as Freshhema and Meituan, were able to quickly reshape their businesses to better adapt to the outbreak.12 If anything, the present situation illustrates how investing in these employee skills not only increases employee satisfaction but also increases organisational resilience to digitisation as well.
The new hybrid work model is predicted to be the new normal as countries begin rolling out the vaccines, and this transition will not be easy. To help smoothen this move, organisations need to address unproductive work environments and support upskilling its workforce. Overcoming these challenges are critical to accepting and normalising the new hybrid work model.
By Sadrish Pradhan
3. https://www.engagerocket.co/pulse-of-the-singapore-workforce 4. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/12/2102