At work in PJs

Competition is global and commerce is conducted in real time over the net while movement of labour is providing workers to fill gaps in both numbers and skills. This has brought about the perception that work is not as secure as it used to be because now, businesses face competition from everywhere while migrant workers seem to compete for jobs with the locals.

However, a closer look at what has been happening in Malta in the last years shows that, unemployment is at its lowest levels ever, employment rate is above the EU average while inactivity, redundancies and competition for jobs are at their lowest. It seems that not even the pandemic effected the labour market that much.

Nevertheless, new trends are emerging which need attention such as the increasing number of workers taking on non-traditional work models. They may be employed, self-employed or agency workers or even in transition, who may work irregular or less than full time hours, while conditions of work vary from one case to another and from industry to industry.

This atypical work attracted more attention in recent times with the advent of the digital transformation of the workplace. Digital-enabled work environments are not bound by traditional office space or work schedules. This model seems to suit the younger generations better due to the flexibility and freedom that remote working offers. However, even workplaces that are open to implementing new ways of working face polarised views on the benefits and losses for the workers. For this reason, organisations are seeking well-managed atypical work arrangements that would work for both the employers and the employees, alike.

Evidence suggests that well thought out non-traditional work arrangements can, in fact, suit both employers and employees. For this reason, employers’ associations and trade unions need to come together to draw up guidelines as there are a number of aspects that need considering.

Well thought out non-traditional work arrangements can suit both employers and employees.

To start with, one needs to evaluate the particular culture of the company and how flexible work arrangements can be implemented. It would be a mistake for one to think that because many are doing it then it should work for me as well. Flexible work arrangements need to be designed and implemented, if and when, it makes business sense while its implementation is made in a fair, transparent and effective manner. In this regard, full clarity of the employment contract that shall govern such arrangement, particularly the corresponding employment rights, is a must.

Change in working practices often requires new ways of communication, delegating, coaching and reporting, as well as the use of new software and access to IT support. Therefore, training is an absolute requirement for a smooth transition and to ensure that standards are kept and improved. In addition, training should also be given to managers, most of whom are used and trained in managing an office-based workforce where communication is faster and people are more visible if not necessarily more productive. They need to be part of the change process and their concerns need to be addressed as often they have valid suggestions that avoid a drop in performance.

Furthermore, managers are critical for such transition as they need to provide their team with clear objectives and communicate regularly both on a one-to-one basis but also collectively as a team. This, in view of the fact that, remote working can be a very lonely job and no matter how convenient it might be, workers need to feel in touch with one another and participate as a team member for the common good and the collective achievement. It is good practice to look not only at the purpose of the tasks at hand but also at the team’s needs and the personal support that most individual workers require from time to time.

In this regard, it is also important to ensure that top management has a system of giving and receiving feedback from all levels of the organisation. It is already a challenge to keep track of the concerns of the workers when they are under one roof let alone having them dispersed through remote working. Therefore, a two-way communication system is an absolute to be pro-active in the way that the concerns and complaints are addressed. Hence, staff forums, works councils or Union representation are critical for a successful outcome. A win-win situation can only be achieved if the flexible work arrangements suit both the company and the workers and therefore work schedules need to be a factor agreed upon by both sides. This is challenging but not impossible for those with leadership skills. Despite this development, there will always be those who prefer to continue with the more structured, office-based work and they need to be respected as well.

In this new scenario, management needs to be careful to avoid elitism between those operating from the office and those working remotely. Fairness should not only be done but also seen to be done. Wherever workers operate from, they need to be treated equally since abuse has a way of creeping in, subliminally.

This new way of working is fast taking hold in many places of work and like all other business and management practices, it would work best for those who are courageous enough to change and even more for those who invest in skills to do it right. This may not only increase the wellbeing of the workforce but it may make the company an employer of choice. Also, it may not only be motivating for the employees but may result in an improved service quality that gives a business the competitive edge in a fast-changing business environment.

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