National lockdowns forced employers to invest in technologies that would allow their house-bound staff to continue working during the pandemic.
“Post COVID, these advances have seen the emergence of new concepts in workforce management, from work-from-home to hybrid and now the borderless model,” says Muhammed Goolab, Senior Reward Specialist and exco member with the South African Reward Association (SARA).
Here, employees could be present in the office full time, working from home several days a week, or even located in another country.
As the boundaries of the modern workforce blur more every day, companies face a number of challenges to keep their operations running like clockwork and their distributed teams productive.
Borderless isn’t for everyone
The first challenge employers face is whether to allow borderless working at all. While some industries have reported increased productivity, others have witnessed a definite decline in worker output.
Each organisation needs to determine whether this model will enhance their type of business through a mix of research, pilot implementation, and possibly sheer trial-and-error. They should also be prepared to pull out if the yields are poor.
The next challenge is to develop and entrench policies that govern how the model will work and be managed, and what is expected of employees.
Most importantly, these policies need to be clearly communicated to staff so they know where they stand, what the rules are and where their boundaries lie.
Planning and balance
A major challenge is to make certain people are where they need to be, when they need to be there to ensure the business continues to operate smoothly.
No company wants days when too many employees are working remotely and not enough are in the office to handle face-to-face situations.
Keeping the different roles and timings coordinated – internally, locally, and internationally – demands careful attention to planning and communication between all teams and stakeholders.
“This can be especially tricky if remote employees are out of sync by several time zones,” says Goolab.
Communication and cooperation between managers and their teams, as well as between team members themselves, can be more difficult if some members are outside the region.
Organisations need to invest in management and communication technologies that will keep members informed and in the loop on every decision and detail, big and small, mundane or significant.
Productivity and trust
Unfortunately, bias can creep into management and performance evaluations. It's easier to see an employee as productive when they are visibly working than when they are situated away from the office.
Ultimately, though, corporations need to judge employees based on results, not location. This means keeping performance reviews focused on outcomes and trusting remote employees who achieve their tasks to manage their discipline in their own way.
Managing the mix
Borderless workforce managers are being exposed to unusual challenges they seldom faced before. Employees who must be on-site full time could become resentful of those they consider privileged for working remotely.
The latter, on the other hand, may experience feelings like a sense of isolation, a lack of involvement, or a loss of direction. Cross-border staff could also face problems that are cultural or language-based, or due to a lack of familiarity with local markets.
“Now, emotional intelligence and support are more important than ever,” says Goolab.
With no limit on where employees can work from, including other countries, organisations have more to consider from a governance, compliance and legislative perspective.
These become critical when determining matters like how data is secured and exchanged, what foreign governments expect of employees and employers, or how workers should be remunerated in accordance with their labour and tax laws.
Reward remains a constant
It's tempting to think that employees who work away from the office are less involved than those who are present. Yet, regardless of where they perform their duties, employees are rewarded for the work they do.
In this sense, reward (i.e. remuneration, benefits and other incentives) continues to be a significant force for attracting, motivating, and retaining talent, even in the borderless model.
"Rewarding an employee consistently with fair recognition of their outcomes-based performance is essential to making this model a success," says Goolab.
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