Deborah Chew - Aug 18, 2020

Getting Remote Work Done Well

The following article is based on a panel discussion on Getting Remote Work Done Well, the third of a four-part webinar on The New Reality of Work – The Impact on Employees, Teams and Organisations, organised by Emergenetics Asia Pacific and SkillsFuture Singapore and held on 13 August 2020.  

Following the outbreak of the global pandemic, people and organisations have begun working from home and have started to embrace the new reality of work. While the future remains uncertain, one thing is for sure – that technology will play a greater part in work and at the workplace.

In fact, Charmain Tan, Founder and CEO of QuickDesk, aptly describes this new reality as the “digital work life” – one that has allowed individuals like herself to push boundaries and to discover new ways of leveraging technology to adjust to the new normal.

That being said, the concept of ‘remote work’ isn’t actually new. Pre-COVID, there had already been a growing workforce that has been working remotely. These include those who Work From Home (WFH), Work Outside Office (WOO), and Work Outside of Singapore (WOOS).

With the pandemic, the growth of a remote workforce has accelerated more quickly than ever imagined, and businesses are finding ways to best manage their almost-instant remote workforce.

Challenges of a Remote Workforce

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In a recent survey conducted by Emergenetics APAC in July 2020, it was found that more than half of the respondents feel that the lines between work and personal space have been blurred.

Rahul Daswani, Head of People and Culture, Open Government Products isn’t surprised by these results. “When we work at the office, we have set boundaries – spatial boundaries and time boundaries. When we work from home, there is none of this.”

Further, the survey showed that only 4 in 10 employees feel that the environment at home is more conducive and comfortable as compared to the office.

“Sometimes, the infrastructures at home are not ideal for people to work from home,” adds Greg Unsworth, Risk Assurance and Digital Business Leader at PwC Singapore.

At the same time, the survey revealed that 50% of respondents feel disconnected with their team and company, and half of the team leaders find it a challenge to maintain a positive company culture.

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To this point, Unsworth points out, “We need to be proactive as leaders to address these challenges. When we are working remotely, we don’t have the opportunity to walk down the hallway to talk to people, so we need to create opportunities for interaction and be deliberate about it.”  

"When we are working remotely, we don’t have the opportunity to walk down the hallway to talk to people, so we need to create opportunities for interaction and be deliberate about it.”  

- Greg Unsworth, Risk Assurance and Digital Business Leader
PwC Singapore

“This is a time whereby we need to be more intentional about how our day to day operations look like, and to listen intently to gain insights as to what others might be feeling,” shares Tan, who encourages conversations with her team on a daily basis through mindfulness practices over digital collaboration platforms.

Leveraging Technology to Get Remote Work Done Well

“Technology will play a pivotal role in the future work force,” states Samit Chopra, Managing Director, WeWork Pacific. “With the pandemic, employee safety and well-being are now of greater importance and so these justify the investments into technologies that can meet these needs, for example control access systems, and those that can track occupancy real-time.”

“With the pandemic, employee safety and well-being are now of greater importance and so these justify the investments into technologies that can meet these needs"

- Samit Chopra, Managing Director, WeWork Pacific

“With the pandemic, employee safety and well-being are now of greater importance and so these justify the investments into technologies that can meet these needs

Agreeing to this point, Unsworth adds, “There has been a digital transformation during this period and nearly everyone has been stepping up their efforts to leverage technology. For example, brick and mortar stores are looking at technology to increase their online presence and distributing their products; and companies are looking at driving efficiencies and productivity through technology.”

But with all the technology in place, what is of greater importance is the training and education to understand and know how to use and leverage these technologies to the one’s benefit.

“You cannot split technology and education,” Tan believes. It is for that reason that she and her team at QuickDesk launched its Professional Conversion Programme right smack in the height of the COVID pandemic to offer skills training to sales executives on how to leverage digital platforms to manage their sales processes and customers.

Knowing what your digital platforms can do for you is equally important.

At Open Government Products, different digital platforms are used for different forms of communication. For example, Zoom is used for formal meetings and Slack channels are used for discussing various topics. However, for informal meetings, Discord is used to allow team members to hop in and out of discussions like they would at the hallway in the office, providing a sense of casual presence that other platforms may not necessarily provide.

With so much emphasis on technology and remote working in this new reality, will the office become redundant?

The Role of the Office

“I don’t think the office is gone for good,” Daswani feels. “What we need to do is to re-define the role of the office, and then we can redesign the space based on what we define the space to be for.”

Agreeing, Unsworth adds, “I see the office of the future having three key roles: for the purpose of establishing its brand or corporate identity – a place of home for individuals of the company to identity with; for the purpose of physical get-togethers; and for the purpose of enhancing interactions. The question is how best to do it.”

Recognising this growing trend of organisations rethinking their real estate assets, Chopra adds “Even in post-COVID, what will not change is that there will continue to be a percentage of staff who would want to continue to work remotely, whether it be WFH, WOO or WOOS. And that is why WeWork provides that flexibility for companies to structure their real estate assets to cater to the flexibility of the workforce of the future.”

Best Practices to Get Remote Work Done Well

With remote work being the default way to work at this point in time, how then can we get remote work done well?

“Over-communicate,” Daswani simply puts. “Communicate and re-communicate on different platforms to cater to the different audience in your team. The idea is to ensure your team is aligned.”

Agreeing, Unsworth adds, “There is much anxiety out there and different people are coping in different ways. So over-communicate, especially from the leadership group; be open and authentic about the challenges and what is being done to address them.”

“Over-communicating cuts away the assumptions. It is very easy to assume if you cannot see others face-to-face,” Tan shares. “And so to work effectively as a team, communication is very important.”

“Over-communicating cuts away the assumptions. It is very easy to assume if you cannot see others face-to-face.”

- Charmain Tan, Founder and CEO, QuickDesk

For Tan, connecting with her people is key to getting remote work done well. “For me, it’s caring with clarity; to be clear about how I want to care for them. With clarity of how they can reach out to me, I will be able to better connect with them.”

Setting time and spatial boundaries while working remotely is also key in getting remote work done well.

“What we have at our office is we do a team-wide sync up at 6pm every day,” Daswani shares. “We go through briefly the key events of the day and then we end off. When that ends, it signals the end of the work day, providing a time boundary for our team.”

Chopra adds, “At WeWork, we understand the need for spatial boundaries and so we currently have an ‘All Access’ policy where members can use this benefit should they need a space outside of their homes to work.”

Thriving in the New Reality

Getting remote done well, whether now or in the future, demands a different attitude and mindset. To thrive, one cannot think that this is only a phase that will pass.

“It is essential that we have a very open mind,” advises Unsworth. “We will find ourselves pivoting regularly to respond to the ever changing environment and having a more agile approach and accepting the pace of change is only going to increase with time.”

And key to being able to pivot well is to have the right skills to be ready for the future.

“Besides digital skills, for example, in knowing how to use data-related tools and collaboration-type tools, it will also be important to build on leadership skills, creativity skills, communication skills and EQ – all of which help us to be better when used with technology,” adds Unsworth.

Leaders too, play a key role in ensuring the organisation and its people thrive in the new reality of remote work.

“Practise empathy,” shares Daswani. “Your people will be more empathetic to you if you are empathetic to them. And with that, trust is built. This allows you to experiment and implement change where needed when they feel they are able to trust you.”

“Your people will be more empathetic to you if you are empathetic to them. And with that, trust is built.

- Rahul Daswani, Head of People and Culture, Open Government Products

For Chopra, employees, leaders and organisations need to be flexible to thrive in the new reality as things are continually changing, for one thing we know for sure - “Things are as certain as it is uncertain.”

The video recording for this webinar is available online. Click on this link to watch the full session.

Written by Deborah Chew