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Remote Working in the Midst of the Coronavirus Outbreak

Posted on March 2020

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The Impact of Coronavirus in the Infrastructure Engineering Sector

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognised COVID-19 as a global emergency. And alongside national health services, it has taken swift but measured steps to limit the spread of the disease. Thankfully, following the last viral epidemic of SARS, technological and healthcare infrastructure has improved significantly. It has helped to mitigate the impact on business and enable organisations to respond swiftly by implementing work from home policies.

While the coronavirus has caught the public and private sectors both off guard, firms can—and must—deal with the situation quickly. Firms should protect their operations and mitigate the risk of infection for their employees. “Work from home” may quickly become the norm for companies, in order to protect their employees while still maintaining "business as usual".

“Most of the infrastructure engineers that we work with do not feel much of a difference working from home recently,” says Mildred Lim, Principal Consultant at LVI Associates. “This is because most of the companies in our sectors already have pre-existing flexible working hours or work from home policies. During this period, our clients and their employees are just applying the policies that are already in place. It is not the first time that they are required or able to work from home."

In fact, Mildred said most of the engineers she is dealing with appreciate the opportunity to work from home, in fact, they feel more efficient with how they utilise their time. “They are actually feeling more confident as the trust is strong between them and their employer,” says Mildred.

However, the difference between these types of projects and other industries is that a lot of people need to work on, or at least travel to, construction sites. “For those who need to work on, or visit, a construction site, working from home is not an option. Some important tasks such as the monitoring of construction progress, and making spot decisions based on the day to day realities of working on a site, require precise on-site observation. Any miscalculations or wrong decisions can sometimes be irreversible or even fatal," Mildred quotes examples from Japan-based clients, one of the first few countries with recognisable COVID-19 cases. “Some clients have started to limit the maximum number of employees and visitors to their construction sites. This is not ideal, but employees' safety always come first for our clients. Most of the engineers that we work with feel valued by their company as their welfare and health is taken care of.”

What should an employer do?

With the COVID-19 outbreak globally, the WHO has provided resources, information and advice to stress the importance of maintaining the precautionary measures implemented to limit therapid spread of infection. It includes regular hand washing, disinfecting surfaces in homes and workplaces and ensuring people stay at home to self-quarantine after potential exposure. 

Contingency plans for outbreaks such as the coronavirus were already in place with some of the larger corporations around the world. This allows them to provide staff with additional paid vacation days or, more commonly, execute remote working plans. Remote working will enable employees and firms to maintain the same level of productivity and it lessens the impact that the outbreak has on long-term operations. If your business doesn’t have a contingency plan for implementing remote working company-wide, there are ways to fast track the implementation and keep your workforce moving in this face of the global crisis. 

Teleworking and remote working has already witnessed a significant increase in APAC businesses over the past few years. This means resources and tools are easily and plentifully available for companies to use. Online collaboration and cloud services are most popular with firms; and video conferencing applications such as Zoom and Skype, have emerged as crucial tools for communication between employees and management. 

“There are still a minority of engineers who prefer to work in an office environment, as there are less distractions compared with those encountered when working from home,” said Mildred. “Employers should also take this into consideration and help create an environment and system that ensures their continued productivity.” Here are four ways to ensure remote working in the infrastructure engineering sector is successful. These can assist the management of companies in making sure this involuntary situation is still successful:

Foundation: Support from Managers and Superiors

Research indicates that success in remote working is increased when line managers and team leaders are on hand to provide support to employees. It’s very easy for employees that may have little confidence or experience in remote working to stray and become unproductive. They begin to feel inadequate or may lack confidence in their role to begin with. This is purely because they feel cut off from a support system. It can be especially important for people that make key financial decisions for company regularly and who often require an environment to bounce their thought processes around with their colleagues. Regular communication between managers and employees is utterly vital for remote working to be a success. 

Blueprints: Work Planning 

What is each employee responsible for when working remotely? Does their job role change when working from the usual office space is not an option? You should always agree on deliverables and necessary tasks from your employees in remote working situations. You must be clear on exactly what can or cannot be provided on a day basis compared with a regular working set up.. 

In such cases, some employees may be required to take on tasks different from those in normal working conditions. For example, if an employee is predominantly customer-facing in their usual role such as bank cashiers, you could utilise them for data entry or administration tasks in the interim whilst remote working. You could also use this time for upskilling or ongoing training for those that have fewer ad-hoc responsibilities. “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail!”

Tools: Utilising Technology 

Sub-standard or unreliable technology will prove your worst enemy in periods of remote working. A slow internet connection, old computer systems and various other situations can dramatically reduce productivity. Similarly, using software not suitable for your business functions can be equally as detrimental to the output of your workforce. Agree in advance on who is to use which equipment, tools and services. 

You should also ensure your business has access to suitable software’s that enable things like video meetings, document sharing and instant messaging. You may find this useful once your workforce returns to normal business operations and see a long-term improvement in collaboration between employees.

Open doors and unlock communications channels

While 'Communication is Key' may sound like a cliché, it’s still true. Proactively making regular welfare checks and calls with your staff will increase their morale and confidence in the company. It’s honest, admirable and it will not go unnoticed in the infrastructure industry. Your company is making the extra effort to ensure your staff are well looked after both in terms of work and their personal lives. 

The coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world. However, by taking the measures above and implementing remote working, you can reduce this impact drastically. Your employees will feel valued, safe and considered. At the same time, your business will continue to be productive in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, and you can ultimately avoid a costly period of inactivity.

Get in touch for expert advice

In challenging times, it is more important than ever to manage your most valuable resource: Talent. Benefit from expert advice, get in touch with us to discuss how to attract and retain infrastructure engineering talent.  

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