Why some companies will fail on work-from-home transition

Organisations which are more control-oriented and check the productivity of their employees based on inputs will find it more difficult to trust their people when working from home, according to a new study. The pandemic has forced many organisations to change in ways that would have been unthinkable six months ago.

According to Karin Sanders, professor in the School of Management at University of New South Wales in Sydney (UNSW) Business School, if organisations have always managed employees from a control perspective, it will be very difficult for them to change.

“They probably should have made this transition many years ago,” she said in a university statement.

Some organisations can handle this more capably than others. For example, many professional organisations such as law firms, consultancies and universities are used to staff working from home and more flexible ways of working.

These organisations base staff productivity on outputs (such as number of projects, clients or number of articles) and not on inputs (such as when staff start or finish their day).

According to Will Felps, Associate Professor in the School of Management at UNSW Business School, the pandemic has presented a unique array of leadership challenges.

While leadership always matters, he observed that there are many constraints on leaders in organisations with strong policies, long histories and which operate in stable industries.

“This means that even mediocre leaders can head effective organisations, and also that great leaders are constrained in what they can do. But this crisis situation, the quality of leadership matters much more right now,” said Felps.

The pandemic will likely have a lasting impact on organisations in a number of ways.

“What will be permanent, in my opinion, is that organisations will understand that they can continue if their workforce is working from home,” said Sanders. “For universities, they will rely more on the importance of digital teaching as a plan B for every course,” she said.

Many workplaces have been using face-to-face meetings and emails as crutches for everything, and failing to fully use superior technologies.

“This coronavirus is likely to cause an operational ‘phase-shift’ in many organisations. Interdependence makes change difficult, but everyone in the world is taking crash-course in doing things online”.

Face-to-face meetings are not the best way to accomplish many tasks. Brainstorming, for example, can be an asynchronous and independent activity, while polls can be online and anonymous – rather than being dominated by the loudest person in the room.

Getting people to change is hard. However, employees are more willing to change when initiatives (and the need) for the change come from outside the organization, said the study.

Covid-19LockdownPandemicRemote WorkingUniversity of New South WalesWork from Home
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