How Working from Home is
Changing Irish SMEs
What was once the practice of a select few professionals, remote working has quickly become the norm for many jobholders in Ireland. Seemingly overnight, organizations of all sizes have had shift their operational models and make major upgrades to their digital infrastructure. In some cases, that infrastructure was built from the ground up.
But as Ireland enters phase 3 of reopening its society and business, what has been the impact of all of this remote work and customer service on SMEs? Will we ever go back to business as usual?
Most of us instinctively know the answer: while we may get back to normalcy in some (hopefully) not-to-distant future, several fundamental shifts in the way we work are likely here to stay.
Below are four such transformations:
- Climbing the technology learning curve. As the pandemic shut down many parts of the economy, SMEs have been quick to overcome their technological inertia and embrace new systems. Cloud computing combined with Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) means smaller companies could quickly scale their operational framework in response to surges in demand or reduce the allocation of resources during a downswing.
But these activities have not been limited to on-site locations. The most successful organizations have helped their employees set up their remote office spaces to maximize productivity. They also continue to make a great effort to give their employees adequate training in tools such as Zoom. Today, employees in various locations and using different devices can now work seamlessly and collaboratively with one another.
- Building productive teams. For the businesses that are new to remote work, learning how to build productive project or management teams has been a work in progress. With employees dispersed, communication and collaboration become more difficult, and many employees initially found their new work environment both distracting and isolating. Facilitating the effective exchange of ideas and ensuring that work gets done when it’s needed, has thus become a big priority. Many businesses have overcome these obstacles by using communication and collaboration platforms to clearly define and communicate daily and weekly objectives, while monitoring performance.
- Wading in uncharted HR territory. For Human Resources teams, the sudden introduction of remote working arrangements has brought challenges to employee morale. Remote working can by nature feel unstructured, disconnected and isolating– and that’s on top of the widespread government lockdown measures. This isolation has been difficult for some who find it hard to focus without the physical presence and counsel of a supervisor and peers.
To boost morale and look after workers’ mental health, companies have put various initiatives in place to maintain physical interaction and communication, such as routine bi-weekly or monthly in-person meetings.
And, as more and more routine work becomes virtual, keeping employees motivated, engaged and effectively communicating has taken on new urgency. Along with online training on working effectively, HR teams have also introduced online social activities, such as fitness and relaxation sessions, activities for the kids and virtual coffee breaks.
By all accounts, this emphasis appears to be working. Even with reductions to their income and social interaction, according to a recent National Recruitment Federation survey, Irish employees seem to be embracing their remote work arrangements. Almost 60 percent of employees now working from home report that they are happier as a result, and 68 percent say they would be happy to continue working remotely in the future.
- The blending of different worlds. For businesses that offer physical products or services and those that require some human on-site work, such as plants and production facilities, perhaps the biggest challenge has been reaching a balance and cohesion between the online and off-line worlds, the collaboration between onsite activities and off-site input. When automation and IoT solutions powered by AI and machine learning are added into the equation, systems requirements to support real-time data-driven decision making have increased exponentially.
With fewer on-site workers running operations, businesses have been adapting a range of smart digital ecosystems that promise to transform how, when and where human labour happens.
In short, the collective movement to remote working arrangements is not a temporary blip in the way business gets done. It’s rather a precursor to where things are headed in the future long after the current pandemic has become a faded memory.