Q. How has the changing working landscape benefited and impacted New Zealand SMBs?
Cedric Edwards: 2020 dramatically changed everything. The businesses that were considering remote working policies and arrangements had that decision made for them. And many businesses who hadn’t been considering it, had no choice but to adapt and embrace remote working arrangements to stay operational.
If there was a positive to the pandemic it demonstrated how businesses can survive and thrive in a remote environment. Having employees work from home doesn’t reduce productivity—it actually made people more productive and better at what they were doing. Remote and hybrid working environments highlighted businesses can trust staff and allow them to work from home provided they have the tools, security and ability to do so.
The emerging challenge of remote working became balancing remote work with maintaining a supportive culture and team collaboration. Ensuring staff feel included and supported is key for wellbeing and staff retention. The isolation of working from home can have a negative impact on staff, so addressing this has become a priority for employers to manage both the people who work well from home in addition to those that prefer to be in the office. This is one of the reasons many organisations have adopted hybrid working environments.
Q. How are businesses adjusting to the concept of long-term work from home models?
Cedric Edwards: The new normal requires investment in technology, as well as updating policies and making the working day more flexible. We’re also seeing a continued move away from the expectation to work as long as you can, to bringing employee wellness to the centre. Employers are starting to recognise the responsibility and benefits of supporting employees to switch off when not working and enjoy personal time.
Working from home blurs the traditional 9-5pm hours. Some employees are early starters while others prefer to work into the evenings so when is it appropriate for employees to contact each other and when does the business working day start and finish when the employees are working to different schedules? Are employees now expected to be available from 6am – 10pm and when can the work phone or email be turned off? These are considerations that managers are having to constantly review, particularly for staff that are challenged managing their own work/life balance. In a number of cases, working from home has greatly increased workload stress and negatively impacted staff wellness.
Employers are also thinking about what technology and policies are required to make flexible working sustainable and secure. For example, modern document sharing and collaboration tools, like SharePoint have become critical with simple things like version control improving employees productivity as they can collaborate and work together to edit documents from anywhere. We need people to be able to access and collaborate on documents, but as a business owner we also need to decide where these documents reside, who owns them, how are they protected and who has access to them.
Q. How is remote and hybrid work impacting other business functions?
Cedric Edwards: What we saw during lockdown is that Teams or other video call platforms were able to provide the links between employees, clients and stakeholders. But at times I think there’s nothing better than face to face meetings. We are also seeing video call fatigue. Again, it’s about finding a happy medium where staff and the business can communicate appropriately. The feedback we’ve had from our customers and our staff is that the majority loved working from home but also really enjoyed being back in the office too.
Q. How has this changed the nature of employment models?
Cedric Edwards: The tighter labour market is driving a move to more individualised contracts that are geared towards meeting individual circumstances. For example, if someone wants to come to work earlier so that they are able pick up their kids from school, flexible hours can be written into their contract. We’ve also seen a lot of businesses moving to a 4-day work week without it impacting productivity. In fact, in some cases there’s been reports of increased productivity.
Employers need to be willing and able to set up environments where employees can match working arrangements to their lifestyle rather than the other way around. This is key for staff attraction and retention because it positively impacts wellbeing, motivation and morale. And in a tight labour market with a skills shortage, attracting and retaining great staff becomes one of the highest priorities for any business.
The forced experiment of working remotely has enabled and encouraged more conversations about flexible working and has started a shift in perspective around being output focused rather than hours worked.
Q. What are the security considerations that come into play when businesses are using a hybrid model?
Cedric Edwards: There are numerous risk areas for hybrid working environments. Employers need to consider how documents and data are used and stored. What if someone downloads sensitive data onto a laptop to work remotely and then leaves the laptop in the back of an Uber? A simple scenario like this opens up questions around where the data is backed up to, who now has access to that data and who can change or delete it. The Privacy Act puts significant requirements on businesses to ensure the privacy of their clients, customers, employees, patients and stakeholders.
Another security concern is Wi-Fi. For example, are employees using their home Wi-Fi or public Wi-Fi at a café or library to access corporate data and complete work? I would ask any business owner to have a look at how many Wi-Fi networks are available around them right now and realise that each one of those is an opportunity for someone to potentially access information. For this reason, we’re seeing a growing number of organisations thinking about minimum standards for remote Wi-Fi and connectivity. It’s all about balancing the user experience with the right levels of security. There’s also a great opportunity to improve training and awareness too, so that staff can identify potential risks.
Another aspect of security is that some employees may use a private, shared or family device to access corporate data and work remotely with the constant risk of malware or virus downloaded when the device is being used for non-work. Another consideration is the potential conflict of using a device that might have material on it that isn’t appropriate for a corporate environment but may be completely acceptable in a private environment. So, organisations need to think about their use policies and identify which devices and connections are being used. Remote working challenges security and increases risk, but if employers put appropriate measures in place, they can make their hybrid working environment secure.
Q. Do you see more businesses starting to provide employees with their own devices?
Cedric Edwards: We are seeing more businesses buying laptops and mobile devices instead of desktops. BYOD still has a significant place, but businesses are requiring increased minimum standards to ensure appropriate operating systems, virus protection, staff training and Wi-Fi are in place.
We also have to consider that there’s still a digital divide because not every home has a device, or appropriate connectivity. So it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see more organisations thinking about these considerations and including the provision of a mobile device and Wi-Fi/connectivity to the employee. At the end of the day, you can provide the device but if someone cannot connect, they can’t be productive.
Q. Do you think the hybrid model is here to stay?
Cedric Edwards: I have no doubt that businesses will continue to embrace hybrid environments moving forward and models will continue to evolve. What we have seen with a number of businesses is that some of them are keeping remote working central to their business, while others are pulling it back a bit because they feel like they didn’t quite get the balance right. Businesses have learned that to be a responsible employer they need to be in tune with the wellbeing of their employees, as well as empowering them with technology that allows them to do their job to the best of their ability whether they’re in the office or working remotely.