COVID-19 Pandemic: a Possible Bifurcation Point Towards Agile Work Systems and Alignment with Digital World
The coronavirus pandemic 2019 and sudden changes in works and life styles have been overwhelming to most. People around the world are stressed about supplies, resources, unemployment, financial crisis, saving their businesses, and protecting their families from the virus. For some, this anxiety is supplemented by the despair of deceased family members and loved ones.
To cope with the crisis, people turn to media and resources to learn about the recommendation and risk assessments of the experts. Unfortunately, the majority of estimates and perceptions are focused on worst-case scenarios that magnify peoples’ psychological distress and anxiety. However, optimism is what empowers people in the midst of crisis and helps them to overcome challenges.
While it may not apply to all industries, the chaos theory – a concept in organization development- could offer some expectant viewpoints about today’s crisis. The disrupted status quo by coronavirus pandemic could be a bifurcation point towards an unprecedented transformation for both people and organizations.
According to chaos theory, systems that move away from one certain status quo will evolve into a new configuration at which either the old situation reasserts itself or shifts the system into a new form (Morgan, 2006). A good example of this evolution is organizations’ overnight shift to virtual work design as a response to the pandemic. while some companies may find this transition challenging, other organizations with a certain degree of flexibility, readiness, and strategic leadership were able to easily adapt to the new situation and continue their operation.
The concept of work-from-home (WFH) has been known for decades and its positive impact on some aspect of organization has already been proven. However, avoiding the risks and fearing the uncertainties, most companies resisted to apply WFH to their businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed these companies to go beyond their comfort zone and step into an unexplored landscape.
On the other hand, some employees who suddenly became remote workers, find the transition to be challenging. Human resource teams could design tailored training programs for these group of employees to speed up their adjustment. Time management and prioritizing techniques may help them to manage split their time between family and work. They can be briefed about potential opportunities of WFH and encourage them to learn new skills and capabilities.
This crisis can be turned into an opportunity, If managed with care. This situation, can be considered as a trial period for both employees and organizations to assess their capabilities, work design, and administrative processes. It is not far from the imagination that by the end of this pandemic, some companies shift to new approaches of running their businesses, and employees find fresh ambitions to thrive.
Collecting information about the ways virtual work design can aid businesses and exploring which technologies best fit their needs could be a worthy first step toward a possible change. Bellow are seven advantages of WFH that worth pondering upon.
1. Cost Reduction
Remote work design can significantly decrease overhead costs and variable costs of businesses. These costs can be eliminated by saving on rent of office spaces, depreciation of building and equipment, property tax and insurance, utilities, maintenance, the administrative and operation costs, office supplies, cost of supervision and inspections, cost of unnecessary networking and meetings, and in-mail marketing.
Employees can also save money on transportation, clothing, and eating out.
2. Exploit Introverts’ Full Potential
Introverts and extroverts are two types of personalities that could indicate one’s performance in different environments. While extroverts may thrive in crowded office environments, busy workspaces can be unproductive and distracting for introverts.
Introverts, according to Susan Cain2 make up 30 to 50 percent of the workforce. They find it difficult to be at their best while surrounded by people, and noisy spaces can drain their energy very quickly. Remote work design can be a desired work condition by which introvert can be more creative, engaged, and highly successful.
With WFH as an option, both group can choose to shift or switch between working form home or office. This, can lead to a more productive and engaged workforce and enables employees to perform with their full potential.
3. Creativity Boost
Working in a new environment can boost peoples’ creativity. The change in work location can maximize people’s ability to think out of the box and find innovative solutions to solve business issues. The reason behind this improvement is that physical elements such as lighting, color, temperature, and furnitures can have psychological impact on human being.
Moreover, working in a team and with fixed groups of people can lead to bounded rationality, groupthink, and tensions within the group member. Rearrangement in work conditions during this period of WFH can increase the creativity of employees as the tensions may decrease, employees may work within new teams, and have more individual tasks to perform.
4. Higher Bench Strength
A virtual work design will blur the geographical boundaries and expand potential labor markets. Companies and recruiters can hire remote employees from any location around the globe and find those who best fit their requirements.
Besides, the flexibility of the remote working system will also decrease the turnover rate of current employees. That is because of increased trust and commitment toward an employer that already proved to care for their employees and kept their job secured in the time of crisis.
5. Technology Leverage
It has been a while since AI, digital information, machine learning, internet of things, cloud computing, social media, virtual workspaces, and blockchain technologies offered faster and cheaper solutions to the market. However, the great values of these technologies remain unexplored by the majority of companies. That’s why among many other ineffective practices; performance rating systems, on-premise databases, wasteful paperwork, unnecessary office meetings, and manual reporting systems are still a reality in most organizations. As the pandemic shutdown forced companies to work remotely, they have the opportunity to use and evaluate the speed and efficiency of advanced tools and technologies.
With remote working, people are forced to work with new tools and cutting edge tech products that makes their tasks faster and easier. Employees also are better placed to learn about new technological trends and increase their skill level. HR managers can redesign their training and development programs in a way that facilitates employees’ learning
6. Enhancement of Work-life Balance
Remote work arrangement can improve the work-family conflict issues that often lead to reduced engagement, motivation, productivity, and increased absenteeism and turnover rate. According to the Center for American Progress3, 95% of mothers and 90% of fathers experience the work-family conflict.
Remote work design gives working parents the flexibility and extended time needed to balance between their job demands and family responsibilities. Moreover, working from home can save them the times spent on commuting from home to office.
Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University, Jeffrey Pfeffer4 in his recent article advised:
“The COVID-19 crisis is a perfect time to finally remediate family leave, paid time off, and other policies that could lead to better outcomes for both individuals and companies.”
These changes in work conditions can increase individuals’ physical and mental health and reduce their anxiety and eventually lead to increased performance and engagement at work.
7. Social Responsibility
According to National Geography4, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in past months due to public health measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. Rob Jackson professor of earth system science at Stanford University indicated that carbon output could fall by more than 5% this year. This record could be the first dip since a 1.4% reduction after the 2008 financial crisis. Studies show that transportation is the first largest contributor to air pollution. Since the pandemic, the US has witnessed a 38% decline in passenger traffic as people start working from home.
However, scientists predict that the pollutant emissions will bounce back when the pandemic eventually subsides. Thus, the remote work arrangement can have a long-term effect on the environment and reduction in CO2 emissions if to be considered as a long-term option. Both organizations and employees can influence the environmental crisis as they choose to continue with the virtual work arrangement.
So, if your business industry and nature of your job allowed you to remain open virtually, you probably have countless opportunities to enhance and develop your organization.
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- Morgan, G. (2006). Images of organization / Gareth Morgan. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, c2006. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat03332a&AN=uow.b1433141&site=eds-liv
- Susan Cain: https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/privacy/quiet-ones/
- Center of America Progress: https://www.americanprogress.org/press/release/2010/01/25/14506/new-report-the-three-faces-of-work-family-conflict/
- Jeffrey Pfeffer: https://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/rework/learning-corner-jeffrey-pfeffer-covid-19-changes-everything%E2%80%94and-nothing%E2%80%94about-managing-workers
- National Geography: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-causing-carbon-emissions-to-fall-but-not-for-long/#close