It’s been a year since most knowledge workers changed their office location from the friendly and well-equipped office building to the coziness of their home. Even though the IT industry was supposed to be one of the fastest to adapt to the new way of working, many companies faced challenges considering that most IT companies did not have a remote culture before.
Coming from a communist background, Romanian companies tend to have more rules to “control” workers and ensure work is done. Going remote unequipped managers from overseeing employees via their normal methods. Only a few Romanian companies trusted their employees enough to give them the freedom to work from anywhere, anytime, before the pandemic started. In March 2020, the COVID-19 lockdown changed the situation dramatically, and in a matter of days, all Romanian knowledge workers began to work from home, regardless of the management’s desire.
Compared to other industries, for the IT industry, the logistics of moving from in-office work to working from home was quite easy. All employees were quickly trained to use VPNs and other security measurements, and everyone could do their job safely. However, the challenges appeared afterward because employees, managers, and business owners are not used to this way of working. These challenges changed over time, and the stages are presented below:
In the early stage of home working, many companies had to face adaptation challenges.
First of all, people were seriously concerned about the spreading of the virus and the possibility of getting sick. Suddenly, employees who had never worked remotely a day in their life started to work from home indefinitely and parents had to adapt their schedules to accommodate child care in their working routine. A lot of anxiety also came from the media, which constantly bombarded us with all kinds of news, focusing on the worst-case scenarios.
During this storming period, many local companies did not take any proactive steps to address the needs of their employees. Employees had to figure out how to cope with the changes. The focus was survival both for the company and for the individuals.
After a few months, employers started to understand and accept the current situation, and more and more companies began to announce that their employees will work from home till the end of the year 2020. However, only a few companies were firm about introducing permanent remote working possibilities for their employees.
At this stage, some employees started to see the effects of the first months of working from home: high level of anxiety, lack of human interaction, and Zoom fatigue. However, due to the flexibility that comes with it, working from home started to be an option to consider for the long run.
As the forecasted length for the pandemic was prolonged, some employers created wellness programs to keep employees engaged even when remote while preparing and analyzing ways to reconfigure the offices to return some of the employees to the office.
In Oradea, some employers decided to invite at the office some critical positions; others decided to take turns and bring all employees at the office with a certain recurrency, while others chose to keep the office open and let employees decide whether they want to work from the office or not. The discussions behind the scenes were mainly regarding the timing and the office layout that needs to be prepared for returning to the office. Though, in most companies, less than 30% of employees were eager to come back, not necessarily for their safety but also because employees started to enjoy the benefits of working remotely.
Currently, the focus has shifted. More and more employers realized that “all people in the office” is a utopia. Especially in the IT industry, an in-office-only approach will be the pathway to bankruptcy. Though very few companies are willing to assume a fully remote system, especially in Romania. The ultimate solution is to optimize companies to work in hybrid conditions. But, are Romanian companies equipped with the skills needed to execute hybrid and work-from-home culture effectively? Below are some key aspects that need to be addressed at each level:
1. Business owner’s mentality
In Oradea, most of the businesses in the IT industry are start-ups. Often, a strong relationship is created between the owner and the company. The owner is most definitely involved in the business at the deepest level possible and sometimes sees it as its own child. This creates the need to control the company and can perceive working remotely as losing control over it.
The first step to successfully adapting a hybrid working model is to have the business owner buy-in. Each business owner should embrace this “new normal” and refuse to resist the trend. This decision to go hybrid should be 100% taken out of conviction, not contextual pressure, and the business owner should be the evangelist of this new working model.
Business owners should empower leaders to coordinate the team and step back from being involved in each decision as this will be impossible in a hybrid working environment.
2. Managers’ capabilities
As the business owners empower managers to lead the hybrid teams, managers have to be prepared for a new way of measuring performance, increasing productivity, and growing people from distance.
HR teams should work closely with each manager to help them grow their managerial and leadership skills. In hybrid working, people’s performance can not be measured by the effort they put into work but by the outcome of their work.
3. HR role, infrastructure & local legislation
The HR role is essential in implementing hybrid working. HR professionals have a complex role in the company. It is the person who has to advocate for employees but protect the company’s interests at the same time. Whenever we have a conflict between the two, the HR professionals should find the best solution to balance both sides.
Hybrid working might raise some challenges for HR as the Romanian legislation creates a lot of bureaucracy when putting in place such a system and has many limitations. There are a lot of challenges in terms of time tracking, recruitment and onboarding, and equality. Some tasks can be done remotely in a crisis; however, they are much more effectively done in person. Therefore, some employees might not be able to work from home whenever they want to, while others will be able to work from home unconditionally. Before adopting a hybrid approach, employers should analyze each role in detail.
4. Employees ownership
To successfully adopt a hybrid working model, each individual should take full ownership of his work. Also, employees should be willing to create their work environment and schedule to allow them to be in sync with their teams whenever is needed.
The working paradigm is changing and the only way to survive a talent driven market is to adapt your business model. We need to prepare for it and address each layer in its own way to adapt to the new way of working successfully. Considering that IT is all about people, it is crucial to listen to their needs and wishes and create a work environment that fits their needs. It shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach. We should be ready to create different working agreements based on positions, skills and employees needs.
Also, employees should create a versatile culture that is able to cross physical boundaries and impact the virtual environment in a way that will make people feel that they belong to a certain group and culture even though they might meet their colleagues in person only a few times a year… or maybe never. Belonging is critical in every organization, but it becomes even more important in hybrid work environments. Employees need to feel the company’s culture even at their home office. Otherwise it will make no difference if they are working for one employer or the other… and soon the loyalty to a company will disappear.
In the IT Industry talent is key, therefore, we cannot afford to lose talent by being inflexible and not adapting to the new norm. Failure to adapt to the new normal will most likely result in high turnover, that will generate higher costs for the company, will affect the reputation of the company and this might affect the survival of the company in the long run.
Carmen Pârge – HR Professional
I strongly believe that IT companies should set the trends for the future of working. In a world where talent has no longer geographical boundaries, local companies should focus on keeping up with the global mega trends. Hybrid work will soon be the norm in our industry therefore I suggest we should be the ones promoting change rather than the ones who are forced by the circumstances to adopt it. There is no doubt it’s coming. Is our call to choose how we respond to it.
Carmen Pârge is an HR Professional since 2011. She owns a bachelor’s degree in management from Emanuel University of Oradea, and a master’s degree in Human Resource Management from the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies. She has 10 years of experience in human resources both locally and internationally working for big players in four different industries: consultancy and financial services, manufacturing, market research, and IT. She is passionate about employer branding, talent management, and organizational development.