The Financial Express

Workplace technology and alternative work arrangement during and post-Covid-19

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Alternative Work Arrangements (AWA) is a unique working method performed from locations away from the office. The critical components of AWA are working from home, flexible working hours, teleconferencing, job sharing, and shifting, compressed workweeks. During the Covid-19 crisis in Bangladesh, many organisations adopted the culture of work from home, flexible working hours, teleconferencing etc., to keep the continuity of the organisational operations. Employee-facing services are mostly running through online teleconferencing and other online remote supports.

Before the Covid-19 outbreaks, many organisations launched flexible work time and work shifting. Employee safety on one side and keeping business services continuity on another side is paramount for the survival of any organisation. Research in mid-2020 shows that 58 per cent of private-sector employees and 19 per cent of public sector employees were fully engaged in work from home (Sultana & Rani, 2020). Deloitte's recent research on Switzerland shows that 52 per cent of the working population worked fully or partially from home (Deloitte, 2021).

AWA is assisting businesses in this critical time. Besides, it produces multiple benefits like decreasing commuting time, reduces personal costs of moving office, parking, food, and laundries, strengthening the work-life quality and employee morale, maintaining social distance during the Covid-19 pandemic, and finally creates a win-win balance between work and family needs and organizational working atmosphere.

The adoption of state-of-the-art workplace technology (WT) is the key driver to make significant alternative work arrangements (AWA) alongside ascertaining the expected result. Workplace Technology (WT) delineates technology to automate, digitalise and organise the work smartly and intelligently. Workplace technology (WT) is composed of the total information technology readiness, sound IT platform, multiple apps, customized integrated software's, the connection of central server with a cloud system, availability of own data, process server system, the high graded data safety to protect business privacy, and the organisation-wide information knowledge and communication technology (ICT).

To investigate the current working pattern, recently, we have surveyed 15 ICT professionals and 15 human resources management (HRM) professionals in Bangladesh. ICT professionals have opined that Alternative Working Arrangements displays a new challenge for the organisation to accommodate investment, convince the owners, and train the employees to make the whole set up within the quickest possible time. Besides, there is a lack of required human resources in ICT departments to serve 24/7 to troubleshoot and back-end support of employee's whole work procedures. Furthermore, ICT training is necessary for freehand physical lab-based facilities that are also abstaining due to lack of knowledge and logistic inadequacy with challenging new norm organizational circumstances. The HRM professional underscored the importance of operational technology training, employees' self-awareness, accepting new challenges instead of resistance, and making a positive mindset to create a new norm family-life and work-life balance.

The workplace technology (WT) took a central charge of keeping the employees engaged when the Covid-19 outbreak stopped people working from the office to home. Work technology was a pretty demanding task at the beginning of the Covid-19 attack. The absence of profound IT knowledge, the readiness of people perception, inadequate IT facilities, the mindset of the top executive of organisations were obstacles and challenges. The Covid-19 crisis seems to prolong, so the trends of digital adoption steered towards warp speed. It fueled relatively faster than ever before. No doubt many organisations have been compelled to adopt the technology due to the Covid-19 crisis. Workplace technology brought more scientific work processes, quick service, and a comprehensive scope of remote working.

The central focus is to search whether the organisations should practise alternative work arrangements for the extended future or for the time being? Should the workplace technology service will be situational piecemeal or for the comprehensive prospect? Whether the workplace technology support is equally available across the organisation? In these circumstances, organisations face enormous challenges.

The following challenges should be addressed to make the bridge between alternative work arrangements and workplace technology adoption for a new normal working environment:

  • Lack of coordination due to out-of workplace, which ultimately hampers teamwork for effective and efficient work output.
  • Inadequate internet connection and malfunctions of hardware and software can cause cyber threats.
  • Obstruction from the family members like babies, kids, family issues may hamper employee productivity.
  • Due to social distance between and among the workforce, personal interactions may cause a big gap, distorting organizational innovation and creating new ideas.
  • Alternative work arrangements may barricade face-to-face communication, have no limit to finish the office hour, create a monotony of the organizational employees.
  • Long working hours at home without a break create a lonely work environment, and isolation may surge mistakes and counterproductive employees. 
  • Managing may be more complicated for the old employees than the young employees due to a lack of digital knowledge, creating disputes and conflicts.

In addition, the organisations should adopt AWA for the extended future instead of piecemeal management practices. Business should not be rigid in forecasting the future due to overreliance on the traditional way of doing things. We argue in favour of long-term planning and practising alternative work arrangements in future work practices worldwide.

Information devices have become necessity to adopt the technology at the workplace. Notably, the AWA and WT are interdependent. One is undone for another and mutually influencing. Facilitating alternative work arrangements guarantees collaborative seamless technology support in the physical workplace and offshore.

Furthermore, there is a significant digital gap between and among the establishments' organisational size, experience, and type (Rahman et al., 2020). The capability of technology is not still the same across the country and world. Conversely, the organisations requires an equal level of ICT infrastructure across the country and world instead of only head offices and the mother country. An employee cannot survive without accelerating the wheel of business. Similarly, the IT setup still differs between offices to homes. For example, employees working at the office will get smooth support, but the same is not noticed from home. This is happening due to the internal cloud system of the organisations. For this reason, different corporate professionals and experts have earnestly flagged introducing information technology like the internet of things to keep people productive and efficient and familiar with new forms of office hours and technology and, if needed, employers must be given extensive mandatory training (Islam & Saif, 2020; Karmaker, 2020).

The following issues are to be addressed:

  • To identify the tasks that can be done remotely and develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) detailing the work process.
  • To adequately setup the facility of required workplace technology tools for uninterrupted internet, laptops or computers, gadgets, Xerox, and other audio-visual devices.
  • Extensive training in Artificial intelligence (AI) adapts and uses workplace technology.
  • To create organisation-wide awareness about new workplace technology, motivate and guide employees, and accept management changes whatever necessary.
  • To prevent cyber risk, organisations need adequate security measures should be adopted.
  • In case of work from the job, set up an all-encompassing workstation with required excellent IT logistics.
  • Keep free from every kind of family gathering at home while the task scheduling is going, and the employees' personal lives should be taken into urgent care.
  • Ensure a close touch with the team leader, supervisor, and all internal and external stakeholders.
  • Most importantly, the employers and the employees should have the proper mindset to embrace this concept.

Mohammad Shariful Islam is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Bangladesh Army Intl University of Science and Technology. [email protected]

Dr Mohammad Khasro Miah is a Professor of School Business and Economics, and Director, Career and Placement Center, North South University, Bangladesh. [email protected]

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