By Naveed Rozais
Covid-19 has been life-changing across the board, and working life in Sri Lanka has seen a major shift. Employees had to adapt their routines, along with the businesses, when Sri Lanka made the move to work from home (WFH) virtually overnight, unless physical presence was strictly necessary.
But what happens now with the country slowly starting to resume normal life following the nine-week curfew?
Most industries in Sri Lanka follow the traditional nine-to-five work schedule and format. Some industries, particularly those that work with foreign markets such as the apparel manufacturing industry, were already starting to experiment with concepts like flexible hours for employees and the option of working remotely part-time.
Naturally, companies and industries like these would have had an edge when it came to making the shift to working from home mid-pandemic, but this was far from the norm.
The pros and cons
A major pro of the shift to remote working mid-pandemic was its impact on reducing and controlling infection rates. With all non-essential employees staying home, the impact and spread of the virus were greatly reduced. However, as boundaries shifted, schedules became longer. A large part of this is because this is a time of crisis, with employees needing to pull together and fight fires on multiple fronts.
But as things have settled, for traditional industries at least, it appears the shift to working remotely is something that boosts both productivity and quality of life. In light of this, Galle Face Hotel Group Head of Legal Affairs Thilani Samarasinha explained that as a rule, workdays tend to be shorter due to fewer interruptions and more streamlined and scheduled meetings.
This isn’t the case for all industries though, as we discovered when chatting with Shehani Alles, the Creative Director of Cyaniq Global, a prominent content creation company. “Cyaniq Global has been practising remote work way before the pandemic. When it comes to calls and communication, we have learnt how to effectively communicate with our team members and clients through various platforms. In the case of a lockdown, the expectation of being on call increased because all conversations that would have been conducted in a physical space have shifted to video/phone calls.”
The removal of the daily commute has also changed things, with more employees being able to accommodate meetings earlier or later in their workday as well as spend more time with their families while still meeting deadlines.
Will companies adapt to working remotely?
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for companies coming out of the pandemic, there will likely be an increase in demand from employees to more flexible working schedules and the option to work remotely part-time, particularly now that employees have seen how they can do their jobs in a remote setting.
In fields like higher education, where universities have switched to distance learning during the pandemic, it is likely that not only will lecturers push for the option to work remotely, but students also, particularly those with long commutes, will prefer the option.
Having a portion of a company’s workforce working remotely could also benefit companies in terms of infrastructure investment. Samarasinha explained: “Most companies invest heavily in infrastructure like office spaces, and with portions of the workforce working remotely, it would be possible to make significant savings by reducing physical office spaces.”
There would also need to be additional support given to remote employees like stipends for internet and electricity costs incurred while working from home.
While remote working has its many benefits, it can also hinder productivity in a different way by creating bottlenecks with decisions being delayed having to work around multiple schedules. The key here would be to create structure, even within a remote working environment, with clear on and off times. This will call for both employers and employees to be more disciplined and self-aware when it comes to managing their time and each other.
Bringing it all together
It will fall on the shoulders of the companies to decide if they should relook at their status quo. They will need to work closely with their teams and HR (human resources) to see if remote working is an option for them and to what extent they can make it part of their daily routines, while still giving their employees the crucial support they need to be able to perform.
“It really is all about finding the right balance and having a certain level of discipline to get the job done when it’s due,” Alles asserted.