The rapid shift to working from home (WFH) was an essential strategy for keeping businesses and people working when the COVID-19 emergency hit.
But many companies are now looking at a future in which WFH becomes part of a next-generation workplace strategy designed to improve productivity while “humanising” work life and particularly performance management.
For some time now, HR professionals have been moving towards a less rigid, structured and uniform way of managing employees’ performance—one that incorporates team performance and tries to understand better what motivates discretionary effort.
The wholesale adoption of WFH is accelerating this trend because managers are realizing the importance of managing people by the outcomes. We can’t manage—or measure—employees now by their presence at work. Work has to be designed to protect employees’ safety and wellbeing without compromising on the importance of achieving the desired results.
Whilst most managers have always understood that the key to success is defining clear outcomes for their teams, the current environment has put emphasis on the need to trust that employees will do what is required to deliver the right outcomes.
Preliminary reports show that whilst many employees have found working from home beneficial, they have also worked harder and for much longer hours, meaning that there have been notable improvements in productivity.
A survey by Deloitte shows that 70% of workers in financial services have found it a positive experience.
The survey showed that the top reason for this was no commuting (76%), with more flexibility (43%), more time with family (39%) and more time to exercise (28%) also contributing.
Those who reported a negative experience cited lack of personal interaction as the main reason (51%), followed by the challenges of achieving a work/life balance (41%) as the boundaries between work and home can soon be blurred when both are done in the same physical space. The majority (76%) felt they were more productive at home.
The importance of building on these studies to sustain the benefits that confirm the link between increased productivity and WFH.
More mature outcomes-based performance management should also drive a renewed focus on performance-based remuneration and, if productivity is indeed rising, should lead to the levels of performance required for the recovery of most businesses and the economy. At the same time, performance based rewards will have to be re-structured to sustain the motivation that remote workers may need.
This should also lead to a review of benefits that will enhance the support that employees who work from home should receive from their employers. As a suggestion, employers need to consider providing connectivity allowances (as opposed to the traditional cellphone allowance) to enable employees to access the data solutions required for the increased use of digital platforms.
Companies will have to begin looking at compensation structures that meet the needs of WFH employees by considering broader factors such as the cost of physical office infrastructure.
Whilst WFH employees who have a dedicated office can claim these expenses as a tax deduction, it seems likely that firms who want to enhance their employee value proposition may come to the party sooner rather than later.
Recently, a Swiss court ordered an employer to pay part of the rent of a former employee who had worked from home, even though there had been no agreement to do so.
Corporates look set to reap significant benefits from WFH: increased productivity and greater employee retention are two, but over the longer term they could reduce the money spent on office space and the extra costs that come with real estate.
They need to share these benefits with employees, and SARA will have a role to play in helping them to get the balance right.
Lindiwe Sebesho is a Master Reward Specialist and Exco Member at the South African Reward Association (SARA).