Lockdowns imposed at the peak of the pandemic kickstarted a global remote-working experiment – a historical first. Once the domain of freelancers, remote work rapidly became business as usual for most of us.
In the middle of crisis emerged a unique opportunity. What if remote working conditions could improve the quality of our lives? Could adversity lead us to reimagine our cities or how we conduct business? The concept of smart work emerged out of these questions – and it’s not the same thing as remote work.
The Difference Between Smart And Remote Work
The world embraced remote working despite its suddenness – nobody was ready. Soon enough, organisations has irrefutable proof of concept a few months into the experiment. It was both possible and profitable to conduct business for a sustained period using virtual communication.
The caveat, however – all of it is textbook definition of remote work. Contrary to popular opinion, remote working isn’t always “smart.” One of the gravest mistakes that top compnanies have made is in assuming so!
Working from home doesn’t automatically guarantee more happiness or productivity. History has ample evidence to prove it. Take, for instance, the case of IBM and Yahoo. In 2013, Yahoo reversed its smart working policies since employees seemed relaxed and distracted. IBM went back to business as usual in 2017. Smart working had helped the company reduce costs, but there were no improvements to creativity or productivity.
These examples, unfortunately, are common practice. Many companies tend to have knee-jerk reactions and sudden shifts to smart working. For smart working to work, companies require transformation measures and necessary safeguards. Most importantly, it requires the correct mindset. An ill-considered shift can result in organisation-wide disarray, drastic losses to productivity, and unhappy workforces.
Smart Working, A New Worldview
Smart Working goes beyond remote working – it’s a mega upgrade and radical work philosophy built on the premise of increased flexibility. When we say flexibility, it includes the autonomy to choose tools, times, and spaces – which means greater accountability and results on the part of employees.
Smart working is a new way of organising business and tasks. Above all, it’s a tremendous social and cultural shift that could affect widespread change – not just to companies but the way cities and urban spaces run in the future. Entire ecosystems must come together to make smart working feasible and impactful.
To get the most out of this new approach to working, here are some critical emerging areas of action:
A Company’s Efforts
Smart spaces: Giving employees more autonomy also means the company must provide employees with conducive office spaces. Many Silicon Valley companies are changing traditional office spaces to promote more flexibility and communication. The objective is to create enjoyable, healthy work environments. A small but telling example of a design change could be big windows that allow more natural lighting. An overhaul in traditional office design and smart work are indispensable to each other.
Digital Offices: Building digital offices is critical for survival, but the concept extends much beyond video conferencing. Comprehensive digitisation of processes will set organisations up for success. Companies must look into a range of solutions to address employee and process management. The list is exhaustive and includes office management, employee data and reporting, access to documentation, performance management, surveys, hiring and onboarding, finance, admin, technology, and product.
Cross-functional collaboration, not hierarchy: Smart working emphasises a more collaborative, project-based approach instead of top-down models. Multiple avenues for synergy and cross-functional collaboration enable different teams to engage more often.
Changes to work culture: Traditional office setups rely on extrinsic motivators to get the best out of remote employees. For instance, bonuses, perks, or promotions. While effective, they can get repetitive and old pretty quickly. Employees will lose interest as extrinsic motivators diminish in value over time.
Under smart working paradigms, companies can tap into intrinsic employee motivation that is far more beneficial. Employee autonomy and purpose are the most crucial motivators. The most brilliant ideas were born when employees had mastery over their time – like Gmail and AdSense. Trusting people with autonomy empowers and motivates them to work better.
Public Sector And Civil Society
The public sector and civil society must step in and help to build sustainable futures. Collective action ensures that more people have access to smart work. The world needs better infrastructure, legislation, and incentives in this regard.
Infrastructure: Governments everywhere must commit to better broadband connectivity that most people can access. Millions of people cannot work from home efficiently due to poor internet.
Legislation: Laws must not only be inclusive and fair but easy to implement. Procedures tend to be open to interpretation, resulting in implementation delays or general backlash. Countries willing to adopt smart working must be more far-sighted in their planning.
National laws can also help protect employee rights – especially the right to disconnect. Corporate cultures implicitly favour a work style where employees are always online and available. Anyone that feels they cannot unplug from work faces a high risk of burnout and severe health problems. Laws must establish rules that balance employee rights with corporate interests.
Incentives: National laws should offer support to companies willing to introduce smart working. For example, certain regions of Italy grant millions of euros in non-refundable aid to help companies adopt new work practices. The Colorado Mutual Prosperity Programme offers economic incentives to companies that hire from rural areas.
Smart working is effective when people, companies, and governments come together. For now, companies need an overhaul in management strategies to facilitate an efficient, sustainable move towards alternative futures. For feasibility, businesses must embed smart work strategies into planning, growth, work culture, resource management, workflow, and processes. Smart working must be at the centre of organizational strategies – not an afterthought.
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