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Remote Working: Employee Engagement Driver for the new age workforce

Mr. Prashant John, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Kwench Global Technologies talks about employee engagement driver for the new age workforce.

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“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Aaritra lives in a far flung suburb of Mumbai, drags herself out of bed cursing the alarm clock, grabs breakfast just as she heads out the door to catch the 7:31 Fast local, spends four hours daily on the train getting to and from her workplace catching up her course work for the digital marketing program she is enrolled in, puts in long hours coordinating with her clients and vendor partners at the market-research company she works for juggling meetings, emails, project reports, few dozen phone calls and everything else that entails working at a cutting edge agency. She reaches home with barely enough time to grab a quick dinner and collapse on her bed. She barely has time to talk to her family or put in quality time on her pet projects. 

Long periods of commute to and from the workplace have become a reality for most people – especially in the metros and large cities of the world. As living space gets crunched in the cities more people move out into the suburbs in search of a better quality of life. But then this implies that people travel for longer periods of time to get to their workplace. 

In most cities the infrastructure is unable to keep pace with the demands of travel patterns. In London, according to BBC News, two-hour commutes are becoming common. In Beijing, workers have a grueling six-hour commute. In Mumbai, the financial capital of India – the suburban local trains even have a term “super dense crush load” to describe passenger loads at peak-hours. Businesses unfortunately tend to cluster together and keep similar times adding to the chaos since people then tend to travel in the same direction and pretty much the same time. 

Now one might wonder why employers would think people would be excited to go through this torture every day and still arrive at the workplace ready to give their best to the work on hand. Add vagaries of weather to this chaos and chances are that you are looking at the perfect (disengagement) storm brewing. 

Remote working, long seen as the antithesis to a collaborative workplace is increasingly being seen as a practical and indeed core employee engagement initiative at offices across the world. According to Global Workforce Analytics and Telework Research Network, teleworking increased by almost 80% between 2005 and 2012. 

By supporting remote working, employers can add a few hours each day to the life of the employee that otherwise would have been wasted in commuting. The additional time can then be better spent connecting with the family, brushing up on new skills, or staying fit. 

It’s all in the mind (literally!)

But it is the least appreciated aspect of remote working might in fact be the most important – the ability of the employee to plan and structure her work day. The now famous concept of “flow” propounded by psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi talks about a mental state of complete absorption in a experience. Now the thing is while most people get the concept of flow, what they don’t quite get is the challenge of how one gets into that state. Constant disruptions and interruptions don’t enable one to get into a state of flow. 

The state of flow is best understood when one looks at what happens to the brain activity. It has been noticed that in the state of flow, there is a decreased activity in the prefrontal activity. This the area of the brain that is responsible for the conscious and explicit mind state. It is hypothesized that in the state of flow this area is subdued temporarily – a process called “transient hypofrontality”. This is thought to trigger a feeling of distortion of time (“didn’t realize where the time went”) , loss of self-consciousness and self-critic (“all the voices in the head just stopped”). 

So now to get into this hyper-productive and creative state one needs to be get away from all (or at least most) distractions. 

Remote working and isolation:

While remote working has its advantages, most people have a need for human contact with their colleagues and co-workers. Resorting to a fully remote working setup might not be the best for most people. According to research by Gallup, employees who had the flexibility to work remotely reported higher engagement levels than those who spend less than 20% of their time doing so. 

While collaboration tools and high bandwidth connections today offer the capability to network seamlessly, they are unable to replicate the social connectivity of the workplace that people need to feel a part of the team.

When companies prioritize employee engagement, remote working can become a reality without too much effort. To ensure that the requirements of both the employees and people managers are met, systems can be put in place where control over one’s time and participation in the creative and cultural loop of the organization can coexist. 


 




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