- March 22, 2021
Driven into a virtual workspace? How did the Covid-19 pandemic influence virtual teams and remote work.
We at Awara follow the principles of efficiency and minimalism for many years. Resources should be used wisely and in a clever way. We advocate for a flat hierarchy and democratic approach in our corporate culture. We focus on fair remuneration for all our employees and our executives do not define themselves via status symbols – we simply believe that in order for a company to be successful, the entire team plays a vital role, from the shareholder to interns. We constantly review our believes and decisions, to develop them and adapt them to new realities, admit when we are wrong and what we can do better in the future.
Since our foundation we apply our corporate culture of engagement, which starts with recruiting new talent. We love engaged employees, real contributors that are self-motivated and self-organized. In turn, we offer personalized development and focus on realizing our employees career dreams, keeping their personal needed work-life-balance.
We do not limit ourselves in any way. As vital support for our clients, we are available when they need us and our employees apply our flexible worktimes in a clever way to ensure to serve our clients in the best way – anywhere in the world.
The future will be virtual and we understand that physical presence is losing its importance. A great opportunity for new structures and allocating resources in creative new ways!
Our team is not limited to our local offices, but we have them available virtually anywhere needed. We hire talent at its origin and do not have to relocate people. Our office space is practically virtual and we carefully selected strategical offices in Moscow, Tver and St. Petersburg to meet with our clients, arrange internal and external meetings or use when needed. We are able to use human resources across our offices as there is often no need to have a separate person for a certain job in all offices.
What are the benefits? What are the challenges and why could it be the perfect time to re-organize towards a virtual organization? Follow our series on “The Virtual Organization”!
The concept is nothing new – virtual teams have been tested and operating for many years in organizations around the world. Driven by the constantly changing business environment and labor market with growing opportunities in telecommunication systems, devices, broad availability of the internet and pressure to support a better work-life balance for their employees, virtual teams have been gaining popularity for the last decades.
With the improvement of technology and IT security as support for a virtual workspace, it is a logical step to use this technological benefit to optimize resources, bring international businesses closer together, enhance communication worldwide with partners, clients and colleagues. Organizations are no longer confined to physical offices and their local employees, project teams can be ad hoc assembled and changed, talent from all over the world can be added if needed and ideas can be shared easily.
Companies (especially industrial enterprises, trade organizations, logistics companies, construction companies, and some other) aim to establish lean structures with a flat hierarchy and self-organized employees, flexible work time, work-life balance, international orientation and ad hoc work stations. The concept of a virtual organization supports this trend.
The concentration of the workforce in one spot (“the office”) becomes continuously negligible. Instead, driven by the need for efficiency on the one hand and a better work-life balance for employees on the other, virtual teams and organizations are a natural answer to both needs. The degree of re-organizing a business as a virtual organization may vary with different industries, hence the organizational processes and structure should be analyzed, in order to see where potential benefits for virtual teams are.
Virtual teams and remote work (e.g. working from home) should not per se be used interchangeably. Some virtual organizational structures may have team members connected from all over the world, but still from their offices, while others will have employees joining from home offices.
The decision to allow for a certain degree of remote work or home office depends further on exploring the benefits for the employee and employer, the ability to supervise or even ensure confidentiality, trade secrets, safety or even the possibility to provide the equipment needed to allow for remote work. Furthermore the readiness and willingness of an employee to work remotely or from home should be considered, as well as if the individuals will be able to organize their own work and meet deadlines. Ideal candidates for remote, as well as working from home are self-organized, mature and trustworthy employees, that have shown high employee engagement already in the past.
How Can an Organization Benefit from Going Virtual?
1. No dependence on local specialists
International organizations have a global need for talent. Also for professionals international careers are often desired and the opportunity of a company to develop an employee within the group may be an extra benefit for employees to choose a career in a specific company.
Employees can share experience with international colleagues in virtual teams, can learn new skills, while the organization can tap their know-how for any projects across the globe and involve them in projects where his expertise is needed. As an example, a specialist may join a team project today in Russia, but another project in China tomorrow, while physically being located in Germany.
2. Cost optimization
In times of cutting costs to stay competitive, a large office space may no longer be needed. Focus on quality and service, minimalism, rather than on status symbols is the general trend, professionally and privately.
Especially in large cities like for example London, Moscow, Hong Kong or New York, where rent prices sky rocket, office rent is a major part of a company’s costs.
In virtual organizations office space can be kept to a minimum. Employees can join projects from any part of the world, whereas only positions that the company cannot or does not want to set-up remotely remain in the physical office.
3. Global pool of talents
In virtual organizations, recruiting does have to stop with the local labor market. Virtual organizations can find the best of the best worldwide. They can pick from a pool of specialists that do not have to change their place or country of residence, or move all together with their families to a different country to work.
Expatriates have increasingly become an expensive variable for companies, may it be for their higher salaries, moving costs, costs for accompanying families, social package, cost for employing them and cost of project loss in case of failure, if they cannot adapt to the foreign culture properly. and not involve themselves efficiently.
4. Employee engagement
Virtual team structures also have benefits for employees in terms of work-life balance, realizing their personal and professional life goals alike.
- Just because a top talent moves to another country, does not mean the virtual organization loses this employee. The employee stays an integral part of the virtual team, develops further and in some cases can even test and tap new markets for the company.
- An employee who physically would prefer to work from home due to family reasons, can be involved remotely in projects according to a set schedule, but otherwise take care of a family.
- A professional would like to return to studies, in order to advance at his job/career. With a partly remote work option, it will be more possible for him or her to realize this. The employee then can apply his newly acquired skills on the work place.
This in turn, may bind the employees closer to the company, as they give options to realize their life goals or even be beneficial to companies to have an employee acquire new skills or education.
5. Global presence
A well-organized virtual team that has employees and partners around the world, means a company has a global representation. Wherever their employees are, the virtual organization is too. That is because a real organization consists of people and their know-how, rather than tangible assets.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further pushed companies into reconsidering their degree of going virtual and introducing mandatory remote work (or work from home). Because of governmental restrictions in most countries, the lockdown sent substantial numbers of employees into home office.
Even companies that were hesitant of pushing forward remote work, had no choice, but to adapt to these new realities. It was new territory for most of them and the subsequent effect on their business success and work effectiveness was unclear.
According to Forbes, 20% of companies in Russia did not survive during this phase and closed their business by June 2020. Further surveys by 1S-Bitrix and NAFI Research Centre in April 2020 show that anywhere from 7%-41% do not plan to return their employees to their offices.
How did remote work affect employees in 2020?
According to a study conducted in April 2020 by the Institute of State and Municipal Administration of the Higher School of Economics in Russia, only 1% of Russians want to stay in remote work. A survey among 200 companies by Mango Telecom showed that 30 % of employees want to return to their office. Rabota.ru (a service for job search and recruitment) shares data that 50% of employees across various companies in Russia (the survey conducted in April 2020, it covered All Russian cities , about 1500 people participated) prefer to return to their office.
The willingness to return to their offices is highly dependent on factors if present, that caused additional stress for the employee during the mandatory distance work because of Covid-19.
- Wage cuts
- Dismissals of colleagues
- General reduction of face-to-face contacts and isolation
- Lack of work-life-balance due to decreased leisure time (hobbies) and general change of usual lifestyle
- Absence of a comfortable/adequate work space at home
- Childcare and homeschooling
- Spouse abuse or family problems due to confinement
What Were the Major Changes for Employees During Mandatory Distance Work in 2020
1) Work and leisure time were mixed
Cutting out the time of their daily commute to the workplace, people’s actual time of being available to work increased. Additionally socializing such as coffee breaks, gatherings with colleagues etc. at work were cut as well.
While working from home people may start their work day earlier and avoid certain time-wasting factors at work, but other distractions at home can decrease efficiency as well. Likewise people may still seek socializing with colleagues via messaging or calls.
Focussing on possible distractions at home, researchers at hh.ru have compiled the following list:
Even considering the factors mentioned above, the start and end time of work is not clearly perceived at home. Mango Telecom researchers (200 companies took part in this research) have identified 35% of employees worked in fact overtime.
2) Homes were not properly equipped to meet the needs of a regular work day.
Work stations are usually set-up to meet the specific needs of the employees, who in turn get accustomed to them. Many people did not find all necessary office tools at home: a separate table with a chair, a printer, a scanner, an office phone, etc.
Awara Example. Employees at Awara complained mostly about an uncomfortable workplace: they had to sit at a coffee table or at a kitchen table. And if both spouses are in home office, it becomes even more difficult to get comfortable. With the start of 2021, 30-35% of employees are back to work at the office. Here is to note that they do not necessarily work every day from the office, some are in 2-3 times per week, while others work full-time from the office.
3) Lack of face-to-face communication
Mandatory remote work was a challenge especially for extroverts. Video conferences can not completely replace face-to-face communication. This is also confirmed by a study hh.ru.
4) The problem of communication
For many people it is often easier to clarify challenging tasks and unclarities via face-to-face contact. Communication via calls and chats requires different communication skills and practise, in order to operate efficiently.
How Remote Work Affected Business in 2020
1) Supervision of employees
Controlling and supervising employees is easier when they are working on office premises than at home. A busy looking employee at the office may be not efficient at all, while an employee in home office may meet all targets. Key Performance Indicators and other methods of measuring the success/efficiency of the particular employee is probably the best way to evaluate performance. Another aspect is to focus on employee engagement as a company strategy and part of corporate culture. Engaged employees may need less supervision and are able to self-organize their tasks better than non-engaged.
A study by Kontakt InterSearch Russia found that 21% of companies do not control employees at all. The top 3 tools to control employees:
- Focus on micromanagement: creating tasks for the day and monitoring their implementation during the day
- Regular calls
- Checks in chats
2) How did mandatory remote work affect employee motivation?
According to a study by Kontakt InterSearch Russia 35% of companies are not interested in the level of motivation of their employees. At least 16% of companies have noticed reduced motivation on average.
3) Creative Brainstorming
Physical distance can be hindering processes such as creative brainstorming. Especially for marketers, designers, architects, and other creative employees may prefer personal contact for brainstorming and complex problem solving. The efficiency during virtual brainstorming depends also on the people involved and if they are used to this concept, comfortable with it, engaged enough and able to involve themselves into a virtual communication as well as into a face-to-face communication.
4) Adaptation of new employees.
Once a new member joins a company, he or she has to adapt to the corporate structure, rules, culture and find his or her space within the organization. With a significant amount of people in home office, the adaptation process can be slower, receiving training from somebody remotely can be demotivating, more difficult to relate to, or to understand the tasks that are expected from the newcomer. Experiencing the corporate culture may also be more difficult and management should take special note of this situation. Integrating a new employee may be a key to his success in the future and his or her willingness to stay with the company
1) Always respond to messages in the chat.
A short “ok” will be enough.
2) Feel free to clarify.
The most stupid question is the question that has not been asked.
3) Don’t ask questions without links.
Don’t make your colleagues painfully remember what it is all about. For example, briefly describe the background of the question or forward old correspondence.
4) video > voice > text
If possible, try to communicate with the camera turned on, or at least with your voice: nonverbal communication is important for each of us in about the same way.
5) Maintain informal communication.
Alternatively, create a separate chat with memes and jokes.
Recommendations for managers and owners
1) Write instructions and rules
Create a company knowledge base with instructions, rules, and approval procedures. You can also add informal rules and traditions – this will help newcomers to join the team.
2) Help employees prepare the workplace.
Perhaps someone will need to help transfer the necessary equipment or even furniture from the office to home.
3) Monitor your employees ‘ stress levels.
Try to communicate with the video to better understand the emotional state of employees.
4) Make sure that employees do not work overtime.
For example, try to hold a roll call in the chat in the morning, and at the end of the working day, wish you a good evening.
5) Control tasks using a task manager program.
This software will make easier to plan the load on employees, clearly monitor the deadlines and respond in time.
6) Director of Remote Work
Maybe you even consider hiring a director for remote work, if the budget allows.