Millions of people switched to working from home after the threat of Covid-19 in March 2013. With the prospect of a return to work, business leaders are now planning for a hybrid workplace. However, they must first consider the negative effects of remote working on their employees.
At risk: Skills
There should be no barriers to staff training in the digital age. However, remote working has made its mark by eroding skills and influencing industry understanding.
Many of the skills that drive productivity, culture, and competitiveness are now at risk because employees have not had the opportunity to interact with others at work. Remote working can also impact communication, and conflict resolution skills, which, if mismanaged, could lead to a cultural misalignment with the business’ core values.
Questionmark, an online assessment company, highlighted the skills employers should focus on recapturing as they include empathy, time management and teamwork. Employers can use the information from an assessment of the workforce to identify skills gaps and develop strategies to address them.
Rob Hill, founder and CEO of Fizzbox experiences platform, believes that, while his company has done its best in keeping the team connected, there are less opportunities for fluid, creative thought when teams are located remotely.
He says: “It’s been hard to commit the time and resource to staff learning and development, purely because our sector has been in fire-fight mode. As we emerge from this period of crisis, we’ll be placing a lot of focus on upskilling our current team, to foster engagement and retention, ultimately driving the business forward towards our key objectives.”
A new way to deal with new risks
While financial crime and data security risks have increased since the pandemics began, many regulations that employees are used to dealing with from their office desks may not be their top priority when working remotely.
“Employees have lost the focus on knowing the customer and conducting regular due diligence,” says Vivek Dodd, cofounder and COO of e-learning and compliance training regtech firm Skillcast. “Even the seasoned professionals will need to sharpen up. Regulators may stop going easy on companies and may want to send a wake up call by naming offenders and imposing large fines.”
Since the last time employees sat together, the world of work has changed drastically. This creates a variety of HR risks, including offensive behavior and office romance. “HR managers might long for the times when workers were restricted to the homes,” adds Dodd.
New hires, office life
For over a year, new starters have not had the opportunity to receive workplace mentoring. They may lack basic skills such as time-keeping, meeting deadlines, dressing appropriately, and even dressing appropriately. And after a year or more of virtual collaboration with colleagues they’ve never met in person, sharing an office with a large team of people and grasping the fundamentals of office etiquette add to the pressures for the newest members of staff.
Stakester, a gaming startup, has tripled its staff since lockdown. Tom Fairey, founder and CEO of Stakester believes that small businesses are better equipped to deal with the challenges associated with office return.
He says: “Collaboration, ideation and relationships are key to startups and small businesses. We encourage staff to come in on the same days when they choose to come to the office now, and we have launched initiatives such as ‘coffee buddies’, where everyone can get a coffee from the local cafe, but they have to take someone with them in order to chat, bond and get to know each other better in person.”
Tony Lysak, founder of The Software Institute, states that mentoring from senior leaders is crucial for smaller businesses.
“Many have struggled to learn through osmosis due to the lack of face-to-face experiences and learning opportunities, such as picking up key skills simply as a result of sitting next to senior staff and immediate guidance from managers,” he says. “The reality is that companies who do not encourage their employees to come back to the office risk widening the digital skills gap even further.”