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Article:

Remote Working: The World’s Biggest Experiment

12 August 2020

Portia Tang , Director and Head of Professional Resources Solutions & Client Services |


23 January 2020: This is the date when the very first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Hong Kong. The pandemic has spread rapidly all over the city, and now placed significant emotional and financial strains to global civilians and businesses operations, respectively – we are all hearing a burning signal that it's time for us to make a change on how we make a living!     

As the world went into lockdown across continents, offices were forced to pull down their shutters and employees had to stay at home, it has paradoxically triggered the biggest experiment around the world in the practice of Remote Working.

The trend of remote working is on the rise globally

Remote working is not a new concept, it has been widely practiced in the United States and other European countries for the past decades. With COVID-19 triggering a massive migration away from the traditional workplace, it has spawned an entirely new revolution in how the global workplace now needs to operate. Tech giants such as Google, Twitter and Facebook were the pioneers that have made significant investments and continuous upgrades on infrastructure, systems, processes and tools many years ago in getting themselves ready to operate business via remote working. These preparation and continuous development works have enabled them to provide their global workforce with options on whether to work from home or in the office.

In a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down, the Asia market is rapidly catching up with an evident growing acceptance to remote working, tallying at 91% of teams in Asia Pacific having implemented 'work from home' arrangements since the outbreak. 1

Zooming into Hong Kong, a famous social media company, 9GAG, announced a forever remote working policy in May 2020. They have terminated the lease of its Tsuen Wan headquarters, given out their furniture and requested all staff to work from home.

Apart from tech companies, in recent years, financial services firms like banks and insurance companies have also provided more flexibility to their employees by allowing them to work remotely when they are not required to perform work in the office. To many’s surprise, traditional professional firm like E&Y has started to embrace remote working more than 10 years ago, being the very first professional firm to introduce the concept of hot-desking in its industry. Back in those days, many of the E&Y firms in different parts of the world have already implemented IT equipment and tools for the purposes of remote data storage and data transfer. Another example is one of the top global insurance players, AXA, it has commenced to give their employees an option to work remotely and/or under a flexi-hour arrangement since 2016. It has also proven that such arrangements have created flexibility for many of their employees, allowing them to effectively plan their work arrangements, which have positively resulted in increased productivity.


Governments' support to remote workers and Its efforts in upskilling workforce

It is much appreciated that the local Governments of various countries are paying serious efforts to aid businesses and workforce to ease into the trend of remote working. Some selective examples include:  

The Philippines government's Department of Information and Communications Technology launched its Tech4Ed program in 2017, which provides training to people in remote parts of the country on topics such as social media marketing. These legislative enhancement nurture the growth of remote working. 

In Cambodia, in support for digital entrepreneurship, a new law came into effect in November 2019 and established legal certainty for electronic transactions, is expected to play an integral role in helping the economy adapt to the digital era.   

In US, government funding has been set to help organisation to enhance their financial burden of setting up work from home equipment. 

Moreover, the Irish government launched a public consultation process in Jul 2020 about guidelines for remote working. To a pleasant surprise, countries learned quickly with the use of modern technology and governments are foreseeing great benefits of remote working and home working in reducing business costs, better work-life balance for parents, fewer greenhouse gas emissions due to less traffic and time saved on the commute.  
 

The remote work job market

With virtual and remote working gaining popularity around the world, HR professionals and organisation leaders have a lot to keep up with in terms of technological developments, digitalisation, business transformation, economic changes and globalisation, etc.  All of these factors affect how companies do business as well as their abilities to attract and retain talents.   

If you are a job seeker thinking about remote working, the good news is that there are remote jobs for workers in all kinds of industries, from technology, media, healthcare, education to marketing.  The technology and telecommunication industries were one of the very first industries to start the trend of remote working, and people working in roles such as computer programmers, digital marketers, graphic designers are very receptive to the mode of home office.  
Other occupations that welcome the idea of remote working are those working in the areas of marketing, sales and customer service.  This is because these workers typically work under a flexible schedule and their nature of work does not always require them to work physically in an office.   Project-based consultants, contractors and temporary workers are also seen as the fast-growing remote career categories. 


It is not about changing a place of work!

If you are holding down a common belief that remote working is simply about changing a place of work – then you are still far from achieving a successful Remote Work practice! 

As much as we are concerned, remote working requires the change of the entire work mode, with a long list of considerations on how to maintain safety and work effectiveness of our employees.  For companies that are just starting to adjust into remote work practice, you will need to be prepared for the greatest challenge on human resource planning, upskilling your existing workforce, ongoing talent acquisition and retention and implementing systematic and effective communication methods across the organisation.  Companies that are well-equipped with technologically advanced equipment and tools and highly secured infrastructure to support the trend and practice of remote working will obviously have competitive advantages over those companies that are less prepared. Nevertheless, there are still plenty for these companies to consider before claiming "success" to this new normal.  Some of the key considerations include "how to transform your existing workforce to help them stay relevant and continue to contribute to the business" and "What are the pros and cons of remote working", etc. These are some of the topics that we will share our insights on in the upcoming articles.

Please stay tuned for our next article – we will share with you the Key Advantages of Remote working and the Key Considerations when a company starts to explore in practicing remote working!  Learning new concepts and listening to new ideas could become a game changer to your business one day!  

 


Gartner, Coronavirus in Mind: Make Remote Work Successful!, 5 March 2020