Work From Home: The New Reality

Aleya R Ikbal

The coronavirus pandemic is first and foremost a human tragedy affecting millions, but it also is a disaster for the economy. From closed shops and businesses, disruption in travel, cancelled events and conferences to disrupted supply chains, not a corner of the global economy has been left unscathed from this pandemic. In the wake of these circumstances, companies and organizations are faced with unprecedented challenges. Businesses have been trying to adopt new ways to do business to overcome this crisis and prepare for an uncertain future.

On a positive note, this situation has forced the business to improve processes and internal communications and boost overall efficiency. For the very first time, the digital platform is now evolving into the primary workplace for many, if not most, companies and organizations.

Never before has there been such a global effort to work from home as we see now. IPDC is no different. As a customer centric organization, the first thing we thought when this pandemic hit was how to serve our customers while keeping our employees safe. As soon as the lockdown started, within a day we ensured our team had the tools they needed to continue their work from home without any disruptions. Luckily, as a technology focused organization, we were already using some of the tools which made it easy for us. Here are some of the ways we made “Work From Home (WFH)” a new reality at IPDC.

It is important to inform consumers that your organization understands the economic crisis, the social circumstances, and cares more than just simply focusing on profits. To empathize with those affected by coronavirus and spell out the steps one must take to help customers, employees, and other stakeholders, companies can use social media sites and customer mailing lists as an ideal vehicle to keep connected.

As an example, IPDC sent emails and SMS to their depositors about early interest payments way before they were due and ensured all were paid. Md Ali Abdullah, one of the IPDC customers, said in appreciation, “This is an exceptional measure in such a moment of crisis. I do transaction through several other institutions, but such customer-friendly initiative is rare. I thank IPDC cordially for their help”. IPDC also launched a new deposit scheme called “IPDC Manobota” to help people save money while providing food for the underprivileged during this pandemic.

The relationship managers continued to call each customer to understand customer whereabouts and to help them in any way possible. IPDC social media sites and website has contents to assure customers that the company is by their side. And these were all done from home with the support of technology and innovation!

While transactions are being managed through DDI and BEFTN, we also communicated to our customers, using multiple communication media, about the changes in our operation, including new hours, facility closures, staff reductions, customer service availability, and application options, among others. While we reference the emergency government regulations that necessitated these changes, it is far better if you are viewed as being proactive and motivated by the customers’ best interests. In addition, IPDC also successfully hosted their Board Meetings and the very first virtual AGM. IPDC is the first NBFI in Bangladesh to have hosted the AGM using video conferencing.

With distance, it is harder to synchronize expectations of each team member. Therefore, it's important that team members are communicating often. Breaking work into small, measurable tasks and setting realistic deadlines for each is key. Scheduling standing check-ins is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and working toward the same goals. When working at home, some may feel cut off from their office community and resources. For them to be able to stay focused and motivated, they need an open line of communication with colleagues and management. Therefore, it is a good policy to arrange daily one-on-one and group meetings online. While we are having our daily MANCOM meetings, line managers are also communicating with their teams via virtual media. Some employees require more interaction than others, so it is up to the managers to know what these individuals need in order to increase their productivity.

For remote work to be successful, by nature, it lends itself to a more goal-oriented, not activity-oriented, management. As a manager, we need to focus less on how much time employees are spending on tasks and more on completing deliverables. As an example, with IPDC’s new campaigns, the relationship managers were given a short-term target to achieve within a certain period. Also, there was a competition created between branches which kept the relationship managers focused on getting more deposits while staying at home.

It's difficult, but not impossible, to instill a company culture in a virtual environment. Team members should be encouraged to interact online in ways that engender community and camaraderie. The right communication and collaboration tools will also lend themselves to spontaneous interactions.

In addition to regular online meetings, it can be valuable to organize live online events or video recordings, in which leaders keep their employees informed about their future challenges and successes. In times of anxiety, this type of communication is of critical importance for the well-being of an organization. IPDC had their townhall meeting virtually to keep the employees engaged and motivated. IPDC also held its “Pohela Boishakh” celebration virtually where team members sang, recited poems and performed stand-up comedy.

Just because everyone can be connected anytime, working from home does not have to mean working all the time or anytime. So, setting aside time that's off-limit to being connected is key to keeping employees productive and motivated. Finding work-life balance is all about prioritization. Prioritizing tasks, planning and scheduling ahead, and proper time management are all vital skills to make WFH a success. While working from home, we must set up a schedule and stick to it; let others know when we’re offline, take breaks to run errands, try to create an office space distinct from the rest of the house, and finally, get ready every morning as if we were going to work. It is easy to assume WFH leads to less productivity, however, it is quite the opposite. Having a structured work schedule helps gives work life balance and generates more productivity.

Finally, for any business to keep operating successfully, it must look after its bottom line. So, if working from home were to undermine a company’s ability to operate successfully, it will need to re-evaluate its approaches and processes will need to be tweaked. So far, IPDC employees have proven they can be equally, if not more, productive even when working from home. They have generated deposits during this pandemic, distributed funds for needy families, made progress on transformational strategic initiatives, and have been able to maintain a good relationship with their customers and keep the shareholders up to date on the company’s activities. In these times and in the future, this can be the new reality to grow faster with a productive workforce while sitting at home.

While looking forward to a post-COVID-19 world, we can take the lessons from this period to make our businesses run better while serving our customers more successfully. This new reality of work from home can be the new normal!

Aleya R. Ikbal is Head of IT and Business Transformation, IPDC Finance Ltd and Adjunct Faculty at BRAC Business School.