The pandemic is a litmus test of how employees can stay motivated, focused, and productive, while working remotely. Further, to reassure all stakeholders, companies must reinforce their commitment to protecting the health and safety of their employees, shares Minna Rouru, Area HR Director, Asia Pacific, KONE Corporation.

Working from home was once considered a privilege for employees around the world. Employees who enjoyed this benefit could opt to work remotely for several days a month. Not any longer. As we usher in the new decade, the World Health Organisation has classified the coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to undertake a massive social experiment. It is no longer business as usual for all companies. Every company, big or small, must ensure that they have a business continuity plan (BCP) in place. In Singapore, the government will close most physical workplace premises for a month unless considered an essential service, as a circuit breaker to minimise the further spread of COVID-19. This has made it compulsory for all employers to provide telecommuting for every employee. It is good to see that the Singapore Ministry of Manpower has enhanced the Work-Life Grant for companies for them to introduce telecommuting during this critical and challenging period.

Companies must continue to comply with the guidelines issued by their local governments and play their role as responsible corporate citizens. For businesses, we must adopt work from home (WFH) policies where possible, and ensure the right infrastructure is in place for telecommuting to be efficient.

Offer flexibility to employees

More employees today are working from home, more than ever before, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is a litmus test of how employees can stay motivated, focused, and productive, while working remotely. WFH ensures business continuity and mitigates the risk of COVID-19 infection within the organisation.

To reassure all stakeholders, companies must reinforce their commitment to protecting the health and safety of their employees. Fair and ethical employee policies must remain in place during this period. Most importantly, when an employee is feeling unwell, both the employer and employee must exercise responsibility. Even once circuit breaking measures are relaxed, employees should not go to work when they are sick and seek medical attention, where necessary.

KONE's approach to telecommuting

As with many businesses, we at KONE were quick to take precautionary measures as part of our BCP measures. We initially introduced split operations by dividing our entire workforce into two teams, where each team took turns to WFH. Furthermore, members from either team are unable to mix with the other team in a professional or social setting. We also introduced social distancing measures in our office as advised by the MOM. Face-to-face meetings are kept to the bare minimum with both internal and external stakeholders, unless absolutely necessary. We also restricted visitor access to our office, and discouraged face-to-face interactions with external stakeholders.

Although we are aiming for full telecommuting, we have to understand that some jobs require employees to be on-site as we believe they are still considered essential services. For example, field technicians are needed to be on-site to provide services for customers, especially at hospitals and quarantine centres. When on-site, they should follow the necessary protocols to remain safe such as wearing masks and personal protective equipment.

Embrace technology to remain productive at work

To achieve maximum productivity and full business functionality while telecommuting, it is crucial for companies to have the right technology and infrastructure in place. Businesses should procure the right software and tools that best support their needs. Some of the essential tools for successful telecommuting will be video conferencing and file sharing apps such as Microsoft Teams. Using these tools will make collaboration between employees seamless.

Although there are cost implications for the business in the short-term, this will help companies to keep employees engaged and accelerate their digital transformation journey. With telecommuting, we are now just at the beginning of realising the future of work vision.

Prepare to revise your BCP policies and guidelines over time

I believe that having a sound BCP foundation is crucial for businesses today to tide through this COVID-19 pandemic. We may not know how things will pan out over time, but we must have measures in place to ensure business continuity and optimal productivity. Every business must be prepared to conduct periodic revisions to their BCP, given the fluid situation and constant changes to local regulations.

The health and safety of employees should be of utmost importance to employers all the time. Even after these elevated social distancing measures are relaxed, every business should work on maintaining minimal physical contact between employees and retain flexible work arrangements for non-essential employees to protect their health and safety.

By being a socially responsible company, we are helping to flatten the curve and successfully combat COVID-19.

It is a must for companies to continue their investment in employees during this period and facilitate easy communication and collaboration. Only then can employees remain both productive and engaged.

Photo / iStock

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