Organizations around the world find themselves in different phases of managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the challenges vary by location, industry and business maturity, identifying and implementing the right employee policies and smart approaches to remote work emerge as the most difficult — and the most important.
Employers in Asia have been tackling these issues for months. In the process, they’ve narrowed down critical success factors for remote work.
“It’s important that organizations in other parts of the world look to their peers in Asia,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Gartner. “While companies in Asia have not yet come out on the other side of this COVID-19 crisis, they’re further along than many in newly affected regions and have valuable insights to share.”
How companies are responding
“Our research shows that only a minority of employers plan to downsize or ask employees to take unpaid leave,” says Kropp. “Instead, most organizations are focusing on alternative measures such as using technology more effectively and freezing new hiring to cut costs.”
A March 17, 2020 Gartner online poll showed organizations’ policy response to the crisis:
- Remote work is the norm: Among 805 organizations responding, 88% now encourage or require employees to work from home, regardless of whether or not they show coronavirus-related symptoms.
- Flexibility on benefits: Among 474 organizations responding, 48% require employees to first use sick leave, then vacation leave and then other types of paid time off, but 32% empower leaders to extend leave beyond central policies.
- Costs are under review: Among 424 organizations responding, 49% have imposed a hiring freeze and 20% have reduced the number of contract workers. Only 2% have cut the pay of teams whose work had been paused. Most (70%) expect to make more effective use of technology to manage costs.
Lessons learned on remote work
Insights that Gartner has gleaned from employers in Asia show these five actions are critical to the success of remote work:
- Provide direction, confidence and resilience. Employees rely on leaders at all levels of the business to take action and set the tone. In communications from senior business leaders to managers, prioritize employee health and business sustainability. Communicate regularly and candidly with employees. The briefing poll found that 56% of organizations have communicated an action plan to employees in case the situation worsens.
- Contextualize coronavirus for the organization. Make leaders a trusted source for accurate and up-to-date information on coronavirus and how it is impacting the organization. Avoid sharing information from social media. Instead, leverage trusted resources such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. Contextualize information and data as much as possible so that it specifically relates to your organization.
- Encourage intentional peer-to-peer interactions. Urge employees to maintain regular professional and personal interactions with their peers, even if those check-ins are virtual. The online poll showed that 40% of organizations have set up additional virtual check-ins for employees with managers and 32% have introduced new tools for virtual meetings. Encourage employees to leverage communication platforms they already use, either at work or in their personal lives, to create new ways to work together.
- Establish team guidelines. Remote work looks different for each employee depending on their needs and those of their family. With unprecedented school closures, many employees must take on a double role as they support their children and families throughout the workday. Organizations can meet employees’ needs by empowering teams to adapt to their conflicting time demands. For instance, teams can set “core team times” where all team members are available to collaborate.
- Provide flexibility for employees’ remote work needs. When preparing for the eventual return of employees to the office, empower employees to make choices best suited for their needs and comfort levels. Where possible, allow employees to decide when to return. Enable essential employees whose work requires them to return to the office to choose the hours that work best for them.
Watch webinar: Lessons Learned from Asia on Managing Talent in a Crisis