Teleworking is helping us be more effective. Let’s keep it up

This is a perfect opportunity of us to put our heads together and think of what worked during the pandemic, why it worked, and how we can still make it work in the future

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people found themselves working remotely with specific targets to reach. Employers from the private sector found themselves facing a pressing need to implement remote methods of work that in many cases turned out to be convenient for both their business and their workers. It also emerged clearer than ever that remote work brings about a myriad of benefits, including for our environment and our general sense of wellbeing.

Teleworking allows employees to be more effective. With the correct tools and a flexible time-table, work can be done at any time, from any place. This means that in many cases workers are more focused and probably more productive. Needless to say, without the need to travel to work every day, people who work remotely eliminate the wasted time in delays associated with sitting in traffic. Business owners reduce real estate costs, since less workers on site mean less of a need for physical work space, including parking space. Apart from the environmental benefit of less pollution and also less traffic congestion on our roads.

Apart from the physical and tangible benefits, we must also consider the fact that a flexible workplace ensures a more positive attitude towards work and in turn has the potential to lower employee turnover. Having workers who stay at their jobs for a longer period of time means less costs related to recruitment. This would also mean having more experts within the company and a bigger opportunity for business continuity, which is very important in times of extremity, such as a pandemic. It stands to reason that companies with a remote working programme have a competitive edge over those that do not when it comes to their level of appeal in the eyes of job seekers.

We need to start taking our quality of life more seriously and this needs to go hand in hand with the campaigns we launch on mental health issues and other related issues. The flexibility of working off-site eliminates the stress of how to get to work and it allows our workforce to find a right balance between work and all the other aspects of their personal life. The result is a work force with higher morale, an improved work ethic and a sense of loyalty towards their company. This is not to mention the obvious general improvement in the environment we live in, with fewer cars on our roads.

There are certain considerations that must be kept in mind when it comes to remote working, such as data protection, privacy matters and the need to invest in the right IT infrastructure for people to work from home, in order not to widen any further the digital divide. We can address these challenges by establishing policies that aim to limit abuse as much as possible.

The question is: why haven’t we been doing this before and why aren’t we doing it more? Malta Enterprise had introduced measures to support employers and also self-employed individuals who invest in technology that empowers teleworking. Such measures partially covered the costs incurred between February and May 2020 for teleworking solutions. The government introduced a support mechanism for parents whose children were being home schooled and who had to work from home. These were steps in the right direction. However, now that the pandemic has been declared as over, there seems to be a general call for all employees to go back to their workplace.

We need to learn lessons from COVID-19 that are not only related to health practices, but also to our general lifestyle. We need to think of financial incentives for companies that accept teleworking, even if once or twice a week, when the nature of the work allows it.

Let’s not even limit ourselves to working remotely. This also applies to our students and our lifestyle in general. We have been discussing parking problems at the University of Malta and Malta’s Junior College for a very long time. Perhaps its time to realise that instead of increasing parking space, we can organise online lectures of modules that are theoretical. After all, remote universities across countries have been existent for decades, thanks to technology.

There are some services that we simply cannot do without, yet the way we go about them can be modified. Take supermarkets as an example. We all need domestic products, yet we do not need to commute to get them. I would love to see financial incentives for customers and supermarkets to do their shopping online rather than in the traditional way.

We cannot all telework, but we have all realised what a better life we live with less cars on our roads. Perhaps it’s time for the government to provide mass transport for its workers to their respective workplaces.

That way, whoever must commute, can do so without contributing to placing more cars on our roads more than our roads can handle.

I believe such measures are the next natural steps to take. Let’s not limit ourselves to ensuring economic regeneration in the traditional sense. This is a perfect opportunity of us to put our heads together and think of what worked during the pandemic, why it worked, and how we can still make it work in the future.

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