Work, WFH and the new nature of engagement

COVID-19 and the lockdown that followed created a new world of work. Working from home (WFH) was suddenly normal, and employees had to quickly learn how to use tools and apps they might not have been used to. With new habits and practices to learn, it’s up to employers to drive engagement and productivity from remote working teams and staff.

We’ve all had to cope with massive changes in our working life during the COVID-19 period. You might have been spending a lot of time working across the kitchen table from your partner, or you could have been forced to turn your son’s or daughter’s bedroom into a makeshift office. Managers, team leaders and colleagues have been scattered, which has impacted camaraderie and hindered collaboration.

If you’re a parent who has been WFH, you will also have felt the impact on education. Children have been learning remotely, with schools working virtually for months. It’s interesting to see many schools throughout the Asia Pacific (APAC) region focusing on how they re-engage students with teachers, and encourage social interaction, over and above learning formal subjects.

I’ve found that personally I have been working around 10 to 15 hours a week more working remotely, despite doing the same job. I’m sure many people can identify with this: the flexibility and often removed commute that go with WFH mean you find yourself working unusual hours simply because you can. Some colleagues prefer to talk to me about projects in the evening, because it’s just more convenient. And it’s against this backdrop that we as employers have to re-engage with our people and rebuild the working communities that existed pre-lockdown.

What’s it been like?

Naturally the past six months have been very demanding on people. But I do think your experience of WFH varies depending on where in the world you have been locked down. Japan, for example, tends to be a very conventional office environment, workers often live in small apartments with family there, too. So, there is a pre-disposition to want to return to the office as quickly as reasonably possible. By contrast, I’ve spoken to members of my teams in India who say WFH has been a bonus, since the Mumbai workers haven’t had to spend three hours a day commuting to and from work, for example.

Then I’ve spoken to European colleagues who have said they are fatigued, but I point out that APAC has had it a lot longer. My European colleagues were actually able to go on holiday in the summer, when APAC was still under lockdown and WFH for five or six months.

It’s hard to find a balance. Companies weren’t ready for the mass lockdown, did not have a roadmap for it, nor had experience of managing anything like it. Social distancing and remote work becomes tiring: a recent Microsoft report, the Work Trend Index, found that around one third of APAC workers are experiencing increased burnout due to lack of separation between work and personal life.

My thoughts about what comes next center around a few factors. I don’t think we’re going to go back to a traditional office environment, I think it’ll be a remote world with some in-office work as and where possible. Many collaboration tools don’t work at scale, so there’s a need to manage that, too. But as we look to open up again, we need to ensure all our people are engaged. A key objective will be to work out how we use workers’ extra time and flexibility to drive better results for our business.

The changing nature of engagement

Changing the nature of engagement is key. We need to use digital tools to encourage worker engagement on sensible terms and sensible hours, because it is preferable for the workers themselves, and delivers results. Research shows that fully-engaged workers are more productive, with Bain finding that engaged employees can be as much as 44% more productive.

There’s an underlying economic benefit that comes from ensuring your teams are fully engaged: in the U.S. alone, disengaged employees cost business $500 billion in lost productivity per year. You need to build teams and communities again, only now outside of the workplace and using remote working tools and techniques. Employees who feel like members of a team are over twice as likely to be fully engaged.

The onus is on business leaders to recognize that work culture is now very different for our people and that there’s a need to balance engagement and keeping productivity high. We can enable workers with unified communication and collaboration (UC&C) tools, give them a home office experience that’s as close to the office experience as possible, but then we need to build on that. Start the process of adoption. Organize remote training sessions for employees alongside their colleagues, and spread them over several days if necessary to avoid fatigue. Listen to their feedback and adapt your methods, if necessary.

Deloitte has found that workers with access to UC&C tools in remote teams are up to 20% more satisfied in their work, but you should look at remote working as an investment. Don’t rush it, build it up step by step, and you’ll build trust and engagement with your people. WFH is here to stay, how we drive engagement needs to evolve with it.

To read more about how Orange can help your organization adapt quickly to the new normal, remote working and effective new ways of engagement, download our ebook: Be resilient at all times – best practices for effective remote working.

Nick Lambert
Nick Lambert

Nick Lambert is Senior Vice President and Head of Asia Pacific at Orange Business Services. As head of the region, he is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the business and spearheading growth across all market segments, including the key markets of China, India, Australasia, Japan, Hong Kong, ASEAN and Korea. Nick has a passion for cars, jazz and contemporary music, and in his spare time, he enjoys cooking and learning Greek.