Remote working

Work routines are evolving to cope with safety needs emerging due to coronavirus

Muhammad Talha, a programme manager at a multinational organisation, is trying hard to be as result oriented while working from home as he was while working from his office. “It is hard because everyone is at home, especially the kids, and everyone expects your attention without understanding your responsibilities.”

While work-from-home is a concept new to many and challenging for individuals like Talha, freelance workers, who are more familiar with the concept, now face a far more serious challenge. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the quantity of work available for freelancers has declined to a fraction of what it used to be.

Syed Umair Ali, a freelance non-linear editor (NLE), was associated with the production team managing the Pakistan Super League (PSL). With the outbreak of the virus, the PSL playoffs were postponed leaving freelancers like Ali idle. “The most frustrating aspect of the ongoing situation is the uncertainty.”

The world is transforming in response to these challenges. Individuals as well as businesses are evolving to cope with the entirely new situation where a large number of countries are forced to implement complete or partial lockdowns.

To reduce the impact on businesses while ensuring safety of their employees, work-from-home arrangements are being made by many organisations. Mian Nauman Kabir, chairman of the Pakistan Industrial and Traders’ Associations’ Front (PIAF), tells The News on Sunday that almost all manufacturers have shut down their units since the lockdown announcement. “Production workers are not coming in but senior executives have been asked to keep working from home. It is challenging but it is helping us transform our systems and evolve a human reflex to work,” he says.

Service providers appear less challenged. According to Kabir, most of the service providers have shifted their work online. “Most of the employees have been engaged this way,” he says “but the problem is that many people are not willing to avail the services fearing person-to-person contact at any level.”

Most multinational companies have introduced guidelines for their employees to ensure safety and productivity – this poses challenges but also offers some opportunities. These companies have developed worksheets and task bars to define targets for those working from home.

Coca-Cola is one of the companies. “Challenges that the company is facing include keeping all employees motivated and energised to counter frustration and depression which can result from not coming out of homes for several days on end,” says Zohare Ali Shariff, chief executive officer of the Asiatic Public Relations Network. “The company is ensuring that our professional responsibilities to our clients are still being fulfilled as in normal times.”

But Shariff says that executives now have more time for self-learning and carrying out research. “With reduced daily routine schedules, there is opportunity for all executives, especially the senior members, to give thought to the evolution of the business in the wake of challenges due to the global slowdown caused by the coronavirus crisis.”

The coronavirus outbreak and government’s lockdown have changed work for mobile phone operators as well. The lockdown has forced people to stay at home and rely on broadband networks to interact with the outside world. The demand on the bandwidth has thus increased with companies having asked employees to work from home, students continuing to learn online and people turning to the internet as the only source of entertainment

Amir Pasha, head of public relations and CSR at Ufone, says that the situation has created various challenges. “The biggest challenge is to provide uninterrupted services to our customers,” he says. “We are in the process of providing work-from-home facility to our office workers and our call centre team for the first time in the industry.”

Currently there are 35 call centre representatives working from home handling customer queries and complaints and the company is in the process of allowing 15 to 20 more team members to do the same on a daily basis taking the count to 200 call centre representatives working from home. “We have also introduced new products and initiatives which make work from home and staying at home easier for our customers.”

But some believe work-from-home hampers team building. A lack of interaction with coworkers can perhaps hurt professional productivity – bouncing off of ideas or just getting constructive feedback from a coworker in an office space breeds trust and comfort.

Adnan Ali, CEO of Avanza Premier Payment Services, says that many employees work best under a specific timetable, the absence of which exists in a work-from-home environment. “If you are one of these, it can be hard for you to achieve the highest level of productivity.”

There are also executives who believe that working from home is a great opportunity to take up extra-curricular activities one had always wished for but never seemed to find time for – reading books, exercising, writing or watching documentaries.

The writer is a staff member. He can be reached at  warraichsheh[email protected]

Remote working: Work routines are evolving to cope with safety needs emerging due to coronavirus