Remote working has saved many businesses – and jobs – during the pandemic, and is set to be a mainstay for the ‘new normal’.

While many organizations in the region are hopeful about recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, telecommuting will still continue to be the norm for most professionals.

This new work order has meant that 72% of IT decision makers have accelerated digitalization strategies to accommodate long-term remote work, according to a Censuswide survey.

However, powering successful virtual work is more than just managing email and conference calls from home.

As the usual face of work rapidly changes, DigiconAsia talks to Prem Pavan, Area Vice President for Asia at digital workspace leader Citrix, about the importance of creating positive employee experiences for this ‘new normal’, no matter the location.

Telecommuting seems to be a mainstay for the ‘new normal’. Is long-term remote working the best solution forward?

Prem: Long-term remote working will be the new normal, even after the pandemic situation recedes. No matter the incumbent technology setup, many businesses have been forced to shift from centralized workforces to enabling all staff to work from home. During this forced remote working period, many professionals who may not have considered working from home now see a lot of advantages in this setup and also realize they can be as productive as – if not more than – in the office.

The remote working model also allows businesses to dip into untapped and previously inaccessible pools of talent that are more attracted to flexible working styles. No longer are you restricted to talent located within a reasonable proximity to an office, businesses can now tap into top talent from all geographies and circumstances, including caretakers, part-time retirees and people living in regional locations in acceptable timezones.

For many firms, it will also make business sense to shift employees to remote work, as the approach enables significant cost benefits to their own bottom lines. Floor space in prime real estate locations in major cities is not cheap, and organizations can make massive savings with just shifting a fraction of their workforce from the office to working from home. These are costly expenses that could easily be used to offset investments in other higher-priority areas, such as driving digital transformation for more streamlined, agile and future-ready business models.

How do you expect remote working will change our workplace culture, employee expectations and leadership approaches?

Prem: With the world’s greatest experiment on remote working a proven success, employees will come to expect greater flexibility, whether in the face of the current challenges or to manage ordinary commitments outside of work in the next decade. Leaders should know that expectation is only going to grow, especially considering how swiftly we have moved to remote work when the approach became an unavoidable necessity. It has also forced leaders to trust their employees and move to an outcome-based leadership style.

Flexible working policies will become an expected, even compulsory “perk” for hiring, retaining, and developing the best employees. But in return, employees will be more loyal and more engaged with their work. Approaches to manage employee productivity, performance and accountability will permanently change.

In what ways would using technology be counterproductive for remote workers? What can be done to improve employee experience?

Prem: The main reason why technology has not increased productivity as much as we might have hoped for remote working, is that organizations often have the misconception that having more apps, more software means more productive remote employees – this cannot be further from the truth.

Sometimes we even see a single business process involving a dozen enterprise apps. Remote productivity and positive workplace experiences cannot be enabled if employees are devoting valuable time to cycle between apps.

Productivity can be further impacted if employees are being constantly interrupted with texts, alerts and chat messages from multiple communication tools. With a dispersed workforce where document sharing across multiple parties and teams is common practice, having disorganized or not readily accessible materials also causes employees to spend more than 20 percent of their time just searching for the right information.

Instead of adding unnecessary technology and tasks to an employee’s workday, we should consider having the technology that can enhance the remote employee experience backed with the right employee friendly policies. This can be in the form of streamlining policies and practices, and optimizing the workday for every employee by organizing, guiding and automating work in an intelligent and personal way.

Having a single, centralized platform that manages work processes and workplace technologies can help maintain the focus on remote productivity and ensure a positive remote work experience not just for now but also for the long run.

Why and how should HR and IT work together for remote working to thrive, especially in corporate cultures prevalent in Asia Pacific?

Prem: IT and HR might be different functions with different responsibilities but they have a joint stake in delivering a high-quality employee experience. With most people working from home, employees rely heavily on various technologies to get work done but in reality, technology on its own is not enough.

Employees need to be supported with the right resources to help them make the adjustment to remote working, and such support should extend beyond instructions on how to use secure software. It should also include tips on setting up a home office, offering flexible schedules to accommodate family responsibilities, hosting virtual office hours where employees can drop in on their managers to ask questions, and leveraging video conferencing as well as chat apps to drive richer communications.

With the lines between work and home becoming thinner, employees that need to take a break need to be encouraged to do so and those that do not take this flexibility with responsibility need to be managed.

The collaboration between HR and IT will require shared objectives, planning processes, cross-functional skillsets, and new KPIs to understand and design for how employees across functions and generations want to work and, more importantly, how they need to work. This is especially true in Asia where we see a multigenerational workforce that has different working styles and preferences when it comes to which digital tools that they want to use for work.

Both HR and IT will need to come together to ensure that the right technologies and practices are in place along with the appropriate training. This way, businesses can maintain productivity and nurture a positive as well as secure work culture throughout this work-from-home period and beyond.