Radisson Hotel Group’s Harpreet Singh on normalising remote working in SA

The group’s area senior HR director for the Middle East and Africa pens his thoughts on the new remote work era.

Last year was a year unlike any other and Covid-19 has forever left its mark on the way we live and work. Organisations were forced to navigate a rapidly changing environment and HR was at the forefront of initiatives responding to a wide range of internal and external transformative trends, from employee well-being to new workforce models and company objectives.

Covid-19 proved that people and organisations are capable of tremendous growth under the pressure of a crisis but in order for organisations to make the shift from “survive to thrive” they will need to showcase their capability to place the human aspect at its core.

While the workplace challenges surrounding Covid-19 will certainly wax and wane, the mindset that comes with it is set to stay: many workplace practices and employee demands will change for good, and both leaders and employees need to be prepared for that. With the advancements in technology, organisations have the chance to transform and relook their company culture, which plays a pivotal role to provide a positive experience to employees. 

The global overnight shift to remote work puts a high value on flexible work arrangements. What started as a temporary transition has since proven to be a more permanent solution for many businesses. And while the flexibility of remote work can be excellent, it does not come without its challenges.

Managers don’t approve

Recent surveys show that one of the main reasons many managers don't approve of remote work is they fear employees will slack off without that physical, in-person oversight. But, in fact, the opposite tends to be the reality: remote workers are more likely to overwork because when your personal life and your work are both under the same roof, it's harder to switch off.

Over the past months, it has become clear that employees embrace the flexibility of remote work, but also crave the social interaction of office life. Following various surveys and reports across South Africa, almost three-quarters of professionals across the country region prefer jobs that allow them to work remotely and give them a flexible choice between office and home. 

The result is that most employees don’t see full-time remote work as a long-term solution, with many keen to return to the office at least two or three days a week. After all, human beings are social animals and even in the digital era and communication revolution, we still require some physical connection to be emotionally healthy and psychologically satisfied. 

And while the reports show that in today’s new norm, employees and job seekers expect that companies will be more open to remote working policies than they were before the crisis, it remains to be seen whether companies will listen to their employees and grant their wishes on a long-term basis.

Doesn’t work for the hospitality sector

Working remotely was not all that common in South Africa before Covid-19 forced organisations to implement flexible work policies. Moving forward, simplifying processes to empower employees, giving them time to focus on more important tasks, and helping in reducing their stress is the need of the hour. 

The pandemic has had many implications for employees as they manage illness, grief, isolation, anxiety, stress, and caregiving demands. Now more than ever, wellness initiatives are vital for any organisation and finding ways to encourage engagement will become a key leadership trait that nurtures employee experience.

Taking our industry as an example, remote working was rarely practised or supported in the hospitality sector in the pre-pandemic era. Many employees would require training to be effective at their new self-supervised work from home job roles. That said, there will always be positions across every industry that require physical attendance and it’s on us to find ways to balance the needs of everyone.

In today’s world, we need to remember that the past year has not only changed aspects of business, the way we work, and the way talent is managed. The expectations of employees have also changed and it is our responsibility to listen and address these needs. We live in a world of hyper-personalisation: our morning news feed is our feed, our Netflix profile is our personal profile based on our viewing history, and our surroundings are selected by our own choices. 

Hybrid model

We live in a world where customisation has changed from being something special to something standard. With that in mind, the pandemic is testing organisations' and leaders’ capacity to guide their teams through rapid waves of change.

With that in mind, Radisson Hotel Group recently introduced hybrid working, a model which allows team members to work from home, the hotel or office - whatever works best for them. In order to support this transition, ensure productivity and help employees embrace hybrid working, Radisson Hotel Group has rolled out numerous online training. From priority setting, planning and organising, to virtual meetings, Radisson Academy, the digital learning platform, hosts various programs. 

Predicting the future of work is always tricky, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made any type of prognosis even more difficult. One thing is clear, we all know that work will never be the same, even if we don’t yet know all the ways in which it will be different. 

What we can say with certainty is that the sudden shift to distributed work has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine everything about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies. Given these pros and cons, organisations must rethink their working arrangements and we will eventually settle on a sustainable new normal.