An Enabled Workplace – The Future of Work
By Esther Akinnukawe, Chief Human Resources Officer at MTN Nigeria
COVID-19 has accelerated the global appetite for a digital transformation, accomplishing within a few months what several organisations had projected as long-range plans thereby redefining the way organizations deliver value. The rapid human-to-human transmission led to the declaration of lockdown measures requiring many employers to immediately implement large-scale remote work from home strategies. At the center of all this, is the employee who must quickly adapt to this new normal whilst delivering value to customers.
Successfully managing a remote and diverse workforce requires trust; leading with empathy and adopting a ‘deliverable’ mindset to driving productivity rather than the traditional command and control approach, which in many instances fails to generate sustainable employee commitment. Building on this, organisations must also institute appropriate policies and strategies to guide the process to ensure that there are no disruptions. Digital and up-to-date technological infrastructure is a key requirement to drive transparency and accountability. The organisation under capable leadership must select and invest in appropriate technologies – video conferencing platforms, information systems, work tools, remote connection to office networks via secured accesses – to aid collaboration.
Deploying rich and diverse communication channels is also very important, the reality of working from home may create a sense of loneliness and isolation, hampering information flow due to physical distances. If deliberate mechanisms are not instituted, the lines of communication may be broken, creating a vacuum and making productivity levels a problem. Setting clear goals and expectations have been frequently identified as a successful mitigation strategy. Furthermore, line managers must make deliberate efforts to create a conducive digital environment that fosters social interaction, trust and inclusion while being mindful of the impacts of their communication styles. Frequent and timely communication assures and inspires hope in employees, therefore organisations must work in tandem with line managers to establish a fluid channel for getting feedback from employees about how they are faring with a view to acting on the feedback. It could also require refreshing and reviewing existing policies and adapting them as required. Also critical is ensuring and supporting continuous learning as an integral aspect of staying connected.
In Nigeria, MTN was one of the first organisations to proactively proceed on a full-scale Work from Home (WFH) model well ahead of the lockdown directive from the Federal Government. To support the transition to a full WFH model, managers and teams were equipped with work tools, an employee and manager telecommuting (WFH) playbook, which provided guidelines on leading virtually; ways of dealing with COVID-19 and external and internal helpline; etiquette and collaboration tools; keeping information confidential and ensuring adequate protection of confidential information; and a host of frequently asked questions.
Remote work has a host of advantages for the employer and the employee, providing a strong business case worth exploring. For the employee, it creates a better work life balance as workers have flexible schedules; they can start and end their day as they choose, as long as their work is complete and meets required expectations. It promotes increased productivity and performance as there are fewer interruptions and less commute required – eliminating to a large extent the corresponding stress from this – offering the opportunity to channel the time gained to other productive uses. The health of workers is also improved in a variety of ways: there is more time to engage in exercise and physical activities, get extra sleep and the opportunity to eat healthier resulting in better overall wellbeing. An added benefit is employees can focus and spend more time on family bonding as most family members are at home for extended periods of time.
For the employer, it enables greater mobility and access to a broader range of talent that is otherwise limited by geographic location. It improves inclusivity by enabling companies to embrace diversity and inclusion by hiring people from different socioeconomic, geographic, cultural backgrounds and with different perspectives. It also provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to find steady employment and pursue their career goals without having to worry about commuting back and forth to an office. The organization has real opportunities to save cost from not having to pay overhead associated with real estate and other costs. It also promotes a positive environmental impact; one of the fastest and cheapest ways for employers and employees to reduce their carbon footprint and the adverse effect of climate change is by reducing commuter travel.
When setting up a remote workforce, it is important to institute a leadership team that will provide a clear direction, assurance to employees and inspire contributions to the organizational agenda in an exciting manner. At MTN, we launched several internal activities on an organizational and divisional level. Some of which include the “Stay Safe Employee Engagement Campaign”, a “Banter Session” for employee bonding & socialization, including virtual workout sessions, health forums and clinics. We continued ourleadership engagement series, now virtual, rebranded “Brunch with Leadership” to serve as a platform for the Senior Leadership team to share updates and encourage staff members, and we have other Leadership Roadshows featuring cross sections of the Executive Leadership team aimed at connecting with our people across their regional and head office locations. At the corporate level, we are supporting other businesses through the Revv Programme, an initiative aimed at addressing the critical needs of MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises) during this pandemic and in the aftermath of the pandemic. We also partnered with Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) to flatten the curve by supplying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and providing testing opportunities to frontline workers and the communities.
Based on our experience at MTN, a remote workforce is a viable long-term option to consider beyond COVID-19. Our digital tools and platforms will be critical in enabling remote working initiatives and policies, therefore needing prioritization and investments as required. Jobs can be remodelled to factor in greater flexibility. Performance agreements or contracts must emphasize results over activity with autonomy, trust and accountability becoming the guiding principles for managing performance. Leaders must note that these are uncharted territories. There is no one-size fits all template for navigating and managing a remote workforce. It is therefore important to first look at the existing organization culture, digital maturity and result orientation and then design appropriate tailor-made policies that are grounded in the principles of workability, transparency, flexibility and inclusiveness. When employees receive the right kind of support and motivation, what immediately becomes apparent is that employees can be productive and focused when not in the office – in many cases, even more so.