Who is leading your transition to remote working?

Deloitte South-East Asia’s Indranil Roy discusses the driving forces behind remote working, and how employees are being impacted.
By: | July 6, 2020

Companies around the world will soon have an important decision to make. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working became the default for many companies; not because they chose to, but because they had to adhere to government regulations in the countries they operated in.

As more and more COVID-19 lockdown measures begin to be lifted, will companies retain and solidify the remote working arrangements put in place during the pandemic, and who will lead this transition?

Indranil Roy, Executive Director, Human Capital Consulting, Deloitte South-East Asia, told HRM Asia, “In terms of enabling factors, real estate providers and technology platforms acting as aggregators of commercial space could accelerate the process by providing many new options that go beyond the binary choice of home and office.

“In terms of leadership, it will likely be led by senior executives like CHROs, CTOs and CFOs/Heads of Real Estate.”

Yet, there is one overriding factor that could play a make-or-break role in the success of remote working – the intent of CEOs. Describing how different CEOs are currently taking differing positions along the willingness spectrum when it comes to remote working, Roy also expects digital natives and technology companies to lead the way.

Citing the examples of Facebook, Twitter, Box and Slack, he added, “We see the early movers to be the tech CEOs, followed by professional services, financial institutions and telecommunication players.”

Remote working could also, conceivably, be more readily embraced by digital natives, as Roy proposed, “The workforce has already exhibited high levels of adaptability, especially among the young and digital-savvy.

“The accelerator needed will be the ability to retrain and reorient team leaders to lead virtual teams effectively and leverage the versatility of team members.”

In 6 months’ time perhaps, any ambiguity might have dissipated as first movers set the pace and provide a template for others who wish to jump on the remote working bandwagon.

In Asia, Roy sees major financial institutions, professional services and telecommunication companies as those which are most likely to lead the remote working transition, alongside prominent technology companies.

Or, if remote working proves not to be the way forward, Roy predicted the potential emergence of a third format between home and office. 

Calling it ‘Work Near Home’, he explained, “We are observing frenetic activity among real estate developers, co-working companies, owners of retail space, and technology firms looking to act as aggregators, all making moves in this direction.

“The eventual business model that appropriates and addresses cost, safety, convenience and productivity has yet to emerge.”

Impact of remote working on employees

Should companies decide to make remote working a permanent arrangement, are their employees ready to embrace this change? What are the key concerns of employees who have been accustomed to working in a traditional office setting?

For instance, will job security be an issue as companies exercising remote working can potentially hire talent from around the world, and at lower costs?

While agreeing that this can be true in the long run, Roy argued that currently, local considerations are far more germane than international concerns.

He added, “The convenience and flexibility to work remotely will be a strong draw for a vast majority of employees in the short run. Over time, as companies become more effective in getting work done from multiple sources and locations, the cross-border effects will become more dominant.”

Roy also acknowledged that many of the companies considering remote working are coming to the conclusion that employees need to spend at least some time in the office, with that percentage of time varying depending on their functional roles and personal preferences.

He also identified one of the greatest challenges for any remote workforce to overcome, as finding the required level of connectivity, collaboration, community and communication to drive a culture of innovation and growth.

People leaders, Roy advised, will need to mitigate the risks of isolation, and this will depend largely on their remote readiness, or ability to effectively lead a remote workforce.

“Managers will need to spend more time in connecting, coaching and counselling employees one-on-one. This is a skill that needs to be learnt and developed over time, especially when most of the one-on-one sessions will be held over video/audio calls.”