Shanthi Rajan, Director – Institution Development, University of Stirling, RAK Campus

Shanthi Rajan is a senior HR professional with a cumulative 29 years of experience in HR and academia. Shanthi is the Director – Institution Development of University of Stirling, RAK campus and SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) Diplomas. She moved to academia in 2009 and has taught in many Universities of repute in UAE, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Malawi and Malaysia.

 

Covid 19, has dramatically transformed work in today’s parlance. Corporates and other businesses have already started to make work from home a norm. Current situation is not conducive to work together in physical spaces in various parts of the world due to this Covid 19 pandemic. 

Let us take a step back to pause.

Prior to the onset of Covid 19, employees used to don company batches with a lot of pride. This employee batch neatly tucked in on the trouser or worn around the shirt collar meant various things to various people. Indisputably, the most important was a sense of identity and a sense of individual accomplishments and achievements.   Other senior employee’s batches used to reflect the path forward. While at their workstation or in the coffee break-out area most of the conversation tended to be work-ward. This gave them a sense of belongingness toward a purpose. Everyday commute to office was with some work objectives to be achieved and end of the day signaled an introspection on them. For many of them the essence of emotional and psychological well-being sprung from their achievements, recognition and creativity at the workplace. These relationships and bonding were seen as opportunities and occasions to enhance knowledge, develop skills and creativity or just simply to be with ‘talented’ or ‘knowledge’ group. A small pat from their Supervisors or an email that lauds them for their smallest of accomplishments at work were highly valued. 

Every day and every part of the office day was keenly awaited. Looking forward to the next birthday celebration of another colleague or a forthcoming festival to be celebrated in the office had its own flavors of happiness, much difficult to describe. Morning coffee or tea with colleagues at the office break-out area always tasted special. Lunch time was no exception either. Going to one of those restaurants for lunch at the food court below, reverse walking so as not to let lose eye contacts of the group with voice pitches going up and down amidst laughter and excitement talking about the current and forthcoming projects were all a part and parcel of fun, delight, enthusiasm, motivation, group advises, personality building and bonding that would ultimately transform into on site team spirit, coherence, productivity and a zest to do more. 

And to do ‘more’ resulted in volunteering for works on weekends, long hours in office and going that extra mile to render productivity yield at its best. These were all source of immense happiness and pride and far outweighed long commute or personal engagements with family or friends. These were stress probably physically tiring but stress busters.  Being together in an office created relationships between co-workers. And these relationships lasted for years even when people have moved out to different firms for opportunities and growth. They were precious and came in handy to get references, employment opportunities and career fulfilment. Most of us have seen the magic of these relationships in our lives too, haven’t we?

The new format of work called teleworking or working remotely from home is sadly devoid of these aspects.  Neither were companies trained in this aspect nor were the employees. To bring a corporate culture home is just not possible for they have evolved over time with painstaking efforts. Though remote working is currently a ‘no-other-option’ strategy but it’s limited to fewer types of jobs. Majority of the manufacturing and production jobs are interactive and cannot be done remotely. Our apartments and homes were not built and neither did the culture prevailing in them to accommodate an office. Besides space constrains they also have constrains of competing attentions with various permutations and combinations. From TV to familial remote workers to children and elderly and a general difficulty to maintain focus toward works due to various other reasons. Decibel levels at home is also not something that is amenable to control. 

Well! At the moment with pandemic we have no other option but to work from home remotely. And for good reasons. We have to follow all precautions for the safety and the well-being of ourselves, our society and the world. Isolation and distancing is the key word to stop the spread of Covid 19. In remote working every work takes the form of urgency. Mornings most probably are devoted to discussions with the team of the matters to be delivered or activities to be achieved during the target period. Prioritizing also sometimes become challenging. In conventional offices urgency most likely used to get resolved with the team’s interactions and this was a great psychological factor. Information required were immediately scrutinized and had due diligence done to onward dissemination. In remote working sometimes it is difficult to reach another team member who could be of help in value adding the required information or the output. This creates stress especially if ‘revert’ request emails keep coming with the supervisors in the email loop. For possibly pressure for response time mounts. 

Late evening calls identifying a project element to be discussed urgently because of some slack in the activity network creates ‘sent and not wait’ attitude. These responses could not have undergone the routine due diligence procedures and could end up being detrimental to the project. Such response might have time, cost and quality impacts on the project or the activity.  All these might compromise individual and collective productivity creating room for unpleasantness, stress and lesser incentive to stay motivated at work. Remote workers start to get a feeling of ‘boundary breach’ because of these instances. The general feeling becomes of an unlimited time of work contrasting with the conventional office times.  Burn outs and stress starts to develop thinking of the backlogs coming in for refinement and the new works piling up. Why backlog work for refinement? Because of probably ineffective supervision or ineffective communication of the desired outcome from the remote worker. And sometimes a fear, apprehension or uneasiness to call a team member or the supervisor again for clarification to avoid the risk of being called ‘not to the expectation’. 

In remote working scenarios it is always best to gradually analyze what are the boundary breaches occurring in the initial days for we have to give a margin as everybody is new to this phenomenon with no training. Everything happened suddenly. Eventually one has to communicate the times that he or she would be available on work days and circulate to the team via an email. Emergencies are always emergencies so they do not come within the ambit of these timings.  So this becomes the first step toward building a pleasant remote working model. And that is what we have done just now: defining a work day. Compress as many video calls as possible in the mornings, crisp and to the point so that the remaining part of the day is available for the required works. If any additional works or assignments are asked beyond what has been required for the work day then politely decline to accept them. Weekend offs must also be clearly conveyed to the team and the supervisor. 

To get a feeling of an office depending on the space constrains create a designated place as your office at home while remote working. Have a Coffee or tea flask that would remind of that office break-out area. A semi-formal or a formal dress, depending on what one calls a formal, would be an inclining factor to the remote office. Have lunch breaks and set up a time post noon for a group coffee or tea session with other members of the team ideally before the close of the work day. This could involve a formal discussion of work and activities during the day or a cheering session for all or for a discussion for the next day’s work or a combination of all of them. Isolation is just keeping distance but to compensate this physical distance remote employees should cultivate a strong camaraderie and a strong team sense. So that everybody is pleasant, motivated and productive. 

If remote working gives time that one saves on commute then up-skilling will be a great option. Let us hope that soon mankind will triumph over this pandemic. 

 

More About Shanthi Rajan

Shanthi holds a Master’s degree with specialization in Strategic Human Resources Management from the University of Wollongong, and is currently pursuing her Doctorate. Her core areas of specialization and research interest includes Strategic HRM, OB, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence. She is an affiliate member of CILT (UK) and a Senior Fellow of Higher Education Academy (SFHEA, UK). She is a certified S+EI coach from the Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence (ISEI), Denver, Colorado. She is also a certified ICF approved EIC Practitioner from NLP Academy. She serves as an Advisory Board Member for a few academic institutions of repute. She has completed her Postgraduate certification (PGCert) in teaching and learning from UK and her Higher Education Teaching Certificate from Derek Bok Centre of Teaching and Learning, Harvard University.

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