The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have driven a major change in the way we live and work. While some return to office working is likely to occur once the pandemic ends, the Working From Home (WFH) culture is likely to be here to stay for companies where this is a viable option. Allied with this, WFH enables employers to shop much more widely for the skillsets they need than was previously the case, this having an evening effect on employment costs. In this article we discuss 4 tips to bear in mind as we navigate this new world.
1. Look at Specialized Skill Sets, Not Location
The way businesses think about work has been revolutionized as a result of the massive shift to a “work-from-anywhere” culture. The importance of working in an office environment has been downsized by many companies in favor of enabling remote workers to maintain their output as part of a new and more agile workforce.
This is great news from a recruitment standpoint because recruiters and companies are no longer bound to a single location — they can seek out and bring talent into companies from anywhere in the country and indeed anywhere in the world. As a result, it has become easier to hire employees with specialized skill sets, providing companies adhere to employment and home working regulations, which are in the early stages of being introduced in many countries and predictably, significantly vary country to country.
Having stated the above, there are some limitations. For example, an employee in Romania will have a different availability overlap period with his US head office than an employee working in Florida. There will also be major differences in employment law, payroll, tax regulations as well as the developing area of taxation of WFH allowances. Expert advice should therefore be taken before committing to this model of hiring.
2. Be Mindful of Data Privacy, Working Time Regulations
WFH, however, introduces increased risks of data privacy/IT security breaches. These need to be fully considered in new policies and procedures companies will need to formulate and convey to their workforce. Some of these procedures can be simple e.g., adjusting “time out before locking” on office machines and regular remote scans of office machines to ensure there has been no unauthorized use. Others will be more complex. Furthermore, where companies are relying on cloud based or other applications, they are dependent on the provider of these services and need to assess whether a given provider demonstrates an adequate level of IT security.
Breaches of data privacy regulations, particularly in U.K. and Europe, are another major concern when WFH. These can, however, be controlled through appropriate working procedures and their strict implementation — which HR will then need to enforce. This is likely to be an area of increasing exposure as a growing number of countries are enacting data privacy related legislation with significant penalties for non-compliance.
Many countries have working time regulations. For example, in France, the legal length of the working week is 35 hours for all types of companies and may not exceed 10 hours per day. Furthermore, a break of at least 20 consecutive minutes is immediately required for employees who have worked six consecutive hours. However, the maximum working length of the working day may extend to 12 hours under a collective agreement.
When WFH applies, monitoring and implementing these requirements can pose a major headache with downside litigation risks arising from disgruntled employees.
3. Be Prepared for the Tech Renaissance
The areas of tech that are booming now are radically different from those that were booming before COVID-19. Thus, for example, software companies developing artificial intelligence are booming, while companies that build software platforms for the airline industry as an example are not. This is, therefore, a good time for businesses caught in the doldrums by COVID-19 to look at their offerings and evaluate whether these can be amended or extended to tap into a more active market. The ability to pivot offerings from customer to customer in accordance with more present and relevant needs will ensure the business stays afloat and even expands!
4. Encourage Sensitive HR Management
WFH has driven a major change in the work culture of many employees. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when employees began working from home, they were faced with challenges not only within their workplace, but within their family structures as well. No longer could they attend meetings with international clients at 1:00 AM local time because they would risk waking up their children or their spouse — and when their children were awake, there were often educational challenges arising from a lack of school to be met, technology issues that pulled employees away, and other small crises that took time away from the day-to-day work that got accomplished without issue in an office.
As a result, many employees are now more concerned about the job meeting their lifestyle requirements and not the other way around. Employers will simply have to adjust to this reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the way businesses and employees approach the way they work, use technology, and manage social and economic change. However, the basic thinking that you hire people with the right contacts that can enable you to expand or to acquire short supply skillsets has not changed. How you handle that hiring and how you subsequently manage the distributed workforce is what matters. There are significant increased risks attached to the working from anywhere culture, but there are also many benefits. It is important to achieve the right balance between these to optimize success. As part of this approach, expert advice should be sought on HR and other matters highlighted herein.
Shan Nair is the president of Nucleus, a one-stop global expansion solution for businesses and a consultant on international expansion.
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