The current surge of pandemic-driven remote working in the ‘new normal’ has spotlighted various strategies to find a new balance between productivity and the quality of life.
Some firms such as EY expect remote working will continue in the post-pandemic era as an aspect of different adoptions of the new normal.
Interestingly, half the world’s population has traditionally juggled with the productivity and work-life balance — well before the emergence of the coronavirus health crisis.
According to OECD’s Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis, the quality of women’s empowerment in the workplace has taken on sharper significance in the new normal. For example, women account for 70% of the global health workforce but only hold a quarter of senior roles in the industry.
Industry voices such as Nadège Petit opine that the global health crisis has forced a new way of working and opened an opportunity for more significant gender equity.
Women at many levels of working are using certain strategies to tackle the new normal,’ which is a view shared by Joey Lim, VP of Commercial, Asia, for Singapore-headquartered Lark Technologies, a collaborative and enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) firm.
To gather ground-level insights from an industry professional in the region, Disruptive.Asia recently talked with Lim. She opened with an outline of her role as leading a team to help customers in the Asia Pacific region enhance work and transformational processes and bring “joy and efficiency in work collaboration to organisations big and small”.
Lark was introduced into the region when working from home directives were being introduced, she explained. “In light of the situation, we saw the need to provide accessibility to digital collaboration tools and began offering Lark for free, ensuring that any organisation, regardless of size, can operate effectively with no additional cost.”
Her career path through multinationals, including ServiceNow, Salesforce, Singapore Press Holdings, Bayer and United Overseas Bank, has been underpinned since 2007 with cloud computing.
Her view of the last year included the comment that, “In retrospect, 2020 hit a new low for many of us, as the pandemic brought the whole world to a stop, pushing everyone to force-start a new normal of working from home.”
“However, humanity’s resolve for adaptation is amazing. As working from home became increasingly viewed as the norm instead of a temporary fix, people adapted – they leveraged technology to overcome social distancing and streamlines manual processes.”
“New work from home policies meant spending more time with family, while not commuting to the office provided that little extra time to get things done,” she continued. “And when businesses began to reopen, human resource policies became more flexible, allowing people to choose what works best for them.”
More demands, more shifts
The OECD’s policy responses to coronavirus research highlight that women worldwide carry out ‘far more care work than men – up to ten times as much according to the OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI)’.
The travel restrictions, at-home quarantines, school and day-care centre closures, and the increased risks faced by elderly relatives can be expected to impose additional burdens on women, even when women and their partners are confined and expected to continue working from home.
Women in the Asia-Pacific have demonstrated decisive leadership, she says, citing a South Morning China Post article, which talks of women steering their countries and communities with effective responses to the pandemic, whether it is managing their businesses and households or standing at the front lines as health care workers. “Yet, in the highest echelons of decision-making and the public sector, we see that many women’s voices are still not being heard.”
In this respect, the data is self-evident: a recent study shows that only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and just 22% of Fortune 500 company board roles are held by women.
“Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all decision-making levels, we will not achieve equality. Of course, this will take time as balancing work protocols in the middle of the pandemic is hard enough, let alone trying to strike this delicate balance of equality in the workplace. But there has been progress,” Lim said.
In her conversations with clients and industry contacts, women pointed to increased expectations.
“Many women feedback that more was expected from them during these periods. The pandemic has led everyone to make changes, but it has taken a heavy toll on women who face challenges in taking expanded duties at home while juggling with their career,” Lim said, which echoes findings from professional network LinkedIn’s Opportunity Index 2021 and a recent Disruptive Asia interview with LinkedIn’s APAC Vice President for Learning & Talent Solutions, Feong Ang.
“As an organisation, we can introduce initiatives to support women in the workforce by making flexible working arrangements a norm, providing networking, mentoring opportunities, [and] addressing unconscious bias,” she said.
“As colleagues, we can be more inclusive and understanding to our female colleagues that need to juggle. Providing them opportunities to speak up and provide feedback will also give them a chance to be heard. Tackling these challenges and providing flexibility to support women, both professionally and personally, will have a positive effect in the long run for businesses.”
Indeed, there has been some progress. “During the past three decades, many young women are thriving as entrepreneurs across the region, innovating and creating opportunities for digital and financial inclusion,” Lim points out, adding that countries in the Asia-Pacific have exceeded global gains since 2000, seeing an average progress rate of 3.4%, compared with a world average of 2.6%.
Malaysia, too, has made some progress as part of the regional trend, which showed that the percentage of women in senior management stood at 28% in 2018, against the global average of 24%, according to Grant Thornton International Ltd’s annual Women in Business reports.
Digitalisation’s positive edge increases the potential for greater participation as well. “Technology plays an integral role in facilitating remote working. Gone are the days where you need to physically be in the office to collaborate with teammates; now, you can connect from anywhere. With the rise of powerful mobile devices and collaboration tools that are mobile-friendly, employees can now instantly connect and collaborate remotely with teams from around the world, anytime.”
“While most people will go back to working in the office post-pandemic, digital collaboration platforms will remain relevant as a solution for navigating different languages, cultures and geographies. Companies who weren’t initially keen on offering flexible working arrangements may now be more open to integrating these offerings following the success of mandatory work-from-home timeframes across the region.”
Humanising digital transformation
“As mentioned, 2020 has been a tough year,” Lim continued. “Personally, I found that juggling work commitments and family responsibilities can be tricky. Attaining success as a working woman requires not just balancing, but blending all aspects of life, especially with work from home orders enforced.”
“As a mother of three young kids, I find that building a strong support group both at work and at home really helps! Having a solid collaboration tool like Lark also allows me to schedule my time, stay productive and communicate openly with my colleagues while working from home.”
“My experience is not unique nor isolated as others are also facing the same challenges of blending their work and personal life,” she adds. “This is where I find trusting your colleagues is beneficial not just for you, but for them as well.”
“Empowering your colleagues to take charge of both short term and long-term goals is crucial for the success of a team adapting to the new normal of remote working. Give them the space they need to accomplish their goals, then check in periodically to offer advice.”
“Encourage feedback and voicing of opinions through active participation,” Lim advises. “Cultivating healthy working relationships like these takes time as everyone is adapting to this new normal, but can be made simpler, efficient and effective with intuitive technology.”
Pointing to digital collaborative tools such as Lark, which she said: “combines multiple resources like Chat, Calendar, and Doc – in one platform, which provides all the productivity options you need to excel and collaborate with your colleagues simultaneously”.
When it comes to inspiring a greater level of productivity and innovation, Lim said, “There are many factors that come into play, especially in these unprecedented times, but I’ve always been amazed at how impactful, innovative technology can be on an individual’s productivity, both at work and at home.”
“I’ve been utilising the many facets of Lark in 2020 during the pandemic, and let me tell you that Lark is more than an enterprise-facing product,” she enthused. “It’s focused on making remote work feel more human and aims to magnify joyful experiences through thoughtful product details. This manifest itself in a multitude of ways, with my favourite being seamless operation.”
“With Lark, everything is stored on the cloud, allowing you to access your files anytime, anywhere, on any device. This allows a no-hassle experience when accessing my work documents,” Lim continued. “In short, a big part of my success in navigating work-life balance in 2020 was the use of intuitive technology. Find one that works for you, and stick with it!”
Lim’s takeaways included down-to-earth tips that she found particularly useful to enhance her productivity: “Flexibility is key. Over the past few months since the Covid-19 outbreak, we have seen an uptick in the number of firms offering remote working arrangements for employees. For (most) women, though, this flexibility comes with inherent challenges. We’ve heard of parents struggling to adjust to the new normal, with the current home-based learning for children kicking in. Attending to your children’s needs whilst having to meet work deadlines and commitments is a challenge. “
In addition, she outlined four simple steps used during 2020, and which she will continue with into 2021:
a) Create a new daily schedule or routine: “You may think you’ve got your work-from-home routine down pat, but having your children at home full-time will throw a spanner in the works. Reduce the chaos by creating a daily schedule for yourself and kids.”
b) Carve out your own space at home: “With everyone staying home, it’s easy to step on one another’s toes. Set clear boundaries with your kids, so they know not to disturb you when you’re on a conference call.”
c) Be honest and open with your colleagues: “After all, everyone’s household is different, and we should be sensitive to these variances. Being open about your home situation takes the pressure off trying to maintain a ‘perfect’ professional image.”
d) Rely on a good collaboration tool to stay productive while working from home: “With the added responsibilities at home, you may feel overwhelmed or get easily distracted. Choose the right collaboration tool to keep you organised, on task and productive!”
“Being a successful leader means you need to communicate clearly to your team all that you expect out of them and the key outcomes of their role. For flexible working to be effective, leaders need to adjust and change their mindsets on how they understand Key Performance Indicators and productivity.
“Don’t try to account for the physical number of hours,” Lim advised. “Instead, allow for the quality of work to speak for itself. Inspire confidence in your team by giving them the benefit of doubt to allow them to achieve, and by providing them with the right tools, software, training, objectives and support.”