Virtual Becoming the New Normal In the Wake Of COVID-19 Pandemic Workplaces will need to place emphasis on creating seamless digital interfaces, maintain smooth connectivity and ensure open communication channels between workforces

By Mahesh Singhi

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The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused an unprecedented health crisis on a global scale but has also impacted world trade and economy adversely. Governments the world-over have announced extended lockdowns to stop community transmission of the virus, reduce infection risks and flatten its curve. This has led to the imposition of severe restrictions on the physical movement of employees from their place of stay to their workplaces. As companies comply with stringent social distancing norms and direct a large part of their workforces to work from home, they are likely to encounter a number of challenges including endless group video calls, repetitive work, lack of direction and resultant anxiety.

It may make sense to note here that working in a virtual environment is vastly different than working in a regular office environment. A key challenge area that could emerge for a large number of companies and concerned stakeholders may be the creation of inclusive online work setup.

Workplaces will need to place emphasis on creating seamless digital interfaces, maintain smooth connectivity and ensure open communication channels between workforces. The onus will need to be on workplaces investing in digital tools and technologies that are scalable and flexible and familiarizing employees with their working.

It is highly likely that in a distributed work environment, employees may experience loss of concentration and isolation. Care will need to be taken to ensure that employees do not work in silos, remain focused and work as part of a dedicated team to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

While working virtually, employees should strictly adhere to a set work routine as they would while working physically in an office and maintain a fine balance between individual flexibility in terms of timing and collective team work to deliver desired outcome from coordinated working. Seniors will need to place the onus on making sure that team meetings are organized regularly, tasks are delegated efficiently and timely feedback is provided to team members. This will ensure that operational tasks are completed on time and performance standards are not compromised. Seniors should also play a mentoring role in helping their subordinates to embrace this crucial organizational change and make migrating to a remote working environment an enabling and smooth process.

It is largely being opined that COVID-19 actually has the potential to redefine the client-customer relationship. Businesses will need to re-engineer their customer engagement strategies with an emphasis on the fine art of human touch. Strengthening customer relationships with constant communication and building bonds of trust and transparency assume paramount importance as organizations struggle to remain afloat in a climate of uncertainty and volatility. Meetings on Web conference apps should be held periodically with customers. There should be regular virtual interactions with customers to understand their problems and concerns with efforts made to resolve them in a time-bound manner. Workforces will need to be trained and sensitized to demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence and empathy while dealing with customers. During these trying times, one must not forget the time-tested adage "customer is king' and is the pivot around which businesses exist and operate. The manner in which businesses interact with clients, address their concerns and redress their grievances will prove to be a key factor in laying the framework for their sustained growth trajectories.

Working from home can lead to the fusion of work life into family life. This holds the potential to adversely impact the work-life balance of the employee and fusion can soon turn into friction. It is absolutely necessary to maintain equilibrium in the work-life cycle. Employees should be given scheduled work breaks and encouraged to pursue hobbies such as reading, exercising and catching up with friends. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance will not only lead to improved employee well-being and happiness but also enhance work productivity and performance.

The compulsion of hybrid arrangements such as work from home have emerged as the new normal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. It is time that Indian companies accept this as new reality and adapt to this fast-emerging trend and integrate it into its functional DNA.

Mahesh Singhi

Founder & MD, Singhi Advisors

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