Tamara Parker shares three questions to guide successful WFH implementation

The Mercer CEO outlines a strategy for navigating the challenges of working from home.

Remote work is no longer just a temporary safety measure. In many organisations, it is now the new normal.

Tamara Parker, CEO of Mercer South Africa, says, “While working remotely makes sense from a safety perspective, it is creating new challenges. For the employee, we are seeing a rise in employee stress, workload and loneliness.”

She adds that while there is strong evidence that remote work often improves employee productivity, researchers have also found that co-ordination issues and interpersonal conflict can emerge if virtual team dynamics are not managed well.

Common challenges of WFH
Tamara says there are several challenges that employees can face while working from home and it is important that organisations support their employees the best they can.

“Some employees require the routine of an office environment and face-to-face interaction, while others with young children may find that their children are interrupting them during work hours, and some do not have suitable space to work from home.

“Additionally, slow broadband speeds and power outages can affect job productivity and cause frustration. Finally, I would highlight mental health as the biggest challenge that working from home can cause, particularly those at high risk for burnout, quarantine fatigue, anxiety and depression.”

What a healthy remote working environment looks like
Tamara shares three ways to ensure a healthy remote working environment.

1. For maximum productivity, shape strategy based on the work being performed

“Start designing a flexible work strategy by examining the actual work performed. Conduct an objective job-based assessment to evaluate the level of flexibility that roles and the organisation can support with minimal to no impact on productivity. Each organisation may find themselves with multiple flexible models that vary across functions based on roles and responsibilities; the key is to do this thoughtfully and analytically.”

2. To optimise the employee experience, balance employee preferences and business needs

She says organisations should refine their strategy by establishing guidelines for a flexible working culture – the behaviours, actions, and norms employees are expected to follow.

“Putting some guardrails around the options provides clarity and enables a consistent and equitable employee experience across the organisation.

“Involve employees in decisions whenever possible, as employees may be in the best position to determine where they are most productive. Establish boundaries to manage organisational risks and balance the role of choice, related to employment and tax law, cybersecurity, and employee health and safety.”

3. Reimagine people programmes in a flexible world
She adds that organisations must support managers in establishing new team norms for flexibility and training them on building new reflexes.

“Upskilling opportunities include empowering and equipping them to lead effectively, helping employees establish balance and manage their well-being, building trust, and conveying empathy and inclusivity.”

Tamara recommends that employers facilitate a discussion with their team by addressing the following three questions:

What has the remote experience been like so far? Ask your employees to share their reflections and identify common themes. Remind your team that all reflections are valid, valuable, and will serve as the basis for making positive changes.

What would our ideal remote work experience look like in the future? This process requires psychological safety and mutual respect. To produce a new vision, everyone must feel comfortable sharing their ideas and thinking creatively. You can promote a welcoming environment by establishing guidelines at the start of a session.

If we want to achieve these ideals, what actions should we take? Once your team has a clear picture of the ideal future state, the next step is to start developing a plan to get there. Share ideas around innovative opportunities, things that have worked during the pandemic, unique situations, and any other ideas that come to mind. Every idea, practical or idealistic, widens possibilities for the team to explore.

Tamara says that the extreme measures put in place to limit the spread of Covid-19 have affected every element of people’s lives and the pandemic has caused a considerable amount of stress.

“Whether colleagues are struggling to juggle work while looking after young children, anxious about their finances or simply feeling the effects of the lockdown, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed at times.

“Fortunately, there are many things that organisations can do to proactively manage and support employee’s mental health – from boosting their emotional resilience, to supporting them in managing their financial anxiety.”