Zinara Rathnayake, journalist

Many businesses have adopted a flexible working culture, allowing employees to work from both home and office, fostering work-life balance and reducing commuting stress.

The shift has not been universal, however; in South Asia, for example, many companies have retained traditional work models.

‘Trust doesn’t build overnight; it comes with our day-in and day-out relations with people’

According to business psychologist Angeline Andrews, there is little region-centred research on the benefits of hybrid working. Studies from elsewhere, however, demonstrate that hybrid work has enhanced employee performance, job satisfaction and increased revenue.

Covid-19 catalyst

Globally, the catalyst for the move towards hybrid working was the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘A few years ago, even if we had a flexible working schedule, most of us had little patience to work from home with all its interruptions,’ says Andrews, who is also the head of marketing business development at Space Clothiers, a textile manufacturer in India.

‘Employees are empowered to choose their optimal schedule and accommodate personal commitments’

The pandemic resulted in a significant disruption to the traditional work environment, and organisations had to adapt swiftly to ensure business continuity. ‘It showed us the agility and resilience of both employees and the human resources team, showcasing how remote and hybrid work models can sustain productively,’ says Sathya Shilpa, HR manager at KPMG India.

Trust is crucial

Andrews emphasises that trust is crucial in a hybrid and remote work setting. ‘Trust doesn’t build overnight. It comes with our day-in and day-out relations with people, sharing our vulnerability and reacting positively to other people’s circumstances,’ she says. ‘What works depends on a range of factors like attitude, personality type and the sort of work we do.’

According to Andrews, some South Asian organisations still correlate home working with a lack of professionalism and commitment. ‘How companies perceive different circumstances has to change,’ she says.

Things are starting to shift in Sri Lanka, according to Salman Fyzal, audit associate at KPMG Sri Lanka. ‘Many businesses tend to agree to hybrid models as long as finance professionals report to the office at least a day or two every week for updates, inquiries or discussions that are difficult to communicate virtually,’ he says.

Motivational concern

Fyzal, who has worked remotely post-pandemic, admits that there are some disadvantages to home working. ‘You tend to feel less motivated and don’t always have a work-oriented mindset,’ he says. ‘When we are at the office, we have our colleagues around us and we feel more encouraged to work effectively.’

Miscommunication is another common problem associated with remote working. ‘A message shared by one individual can be interpreted differently by another,’ Fyzal notes.

‘Companies should encourage and support employees to feel a sense of independence and autonomy’

Shilpa agrees, describing effective communication as a ‘tightrope act as finance professionals navigate between remote and on-site colleagues’. Misinterpreted messages, delayed responses and lack of non-verbal cues can hinder efficient decision-making. ‘It requires innovative strategies to bridge the communication gap and foster seamless collaboration in a hybrid environment,’ she says.

Managers’ role

The relationship between managers and employees plays a key role in hybrid working models. ‘When you ask employees about their preferences, understand their circumstances and empathise, it also creates a change in their attitude,’ Andrews says. ‘Companies should encourage and support employees to feel a sense of independence and autonomy.’

Managers, she adds, have to create an environment that is comfortable for all team members and suggests following the ‘3i’ model: inform, interact and involve. ‘This brings in less friction and conflict of opinions, and promotes inclusivity and commitment.’

According to Shilpa, employers in South Asia that put resources into the transition to hybrid working are rewarded with the dedication and commitment of employees. ‘Human resource departments play a vital role to enable and support this transition, providing necessary resources, tools and policies to ensure a smooth and successful remote work experience,’ she says.

By adapting virtual collaboration tools to help with seamless communication, project management and team coordination, companies can bridge the geographical gaps and enhance productivity further, Shilpa says. ‘More and more offices are encouraging flexible working hours. Employees are empowered to choose their optimal schedule and accommodate personal commitments, which promotes a healthy work environment.’

Long-term strategy

Meanwhile, co-working spaces are increasingly gaining popularity in India as they provide individuals with a professional setup, networking opportunities and a sense of community while working remotely. ‘Some companies also offer skills development programmes online, so many professionals can enhance their competencies, stay relevant in a changing job market, and adapt to the demands of remote work,’ says Shilpa.

In addition, remote and hybrid work models are helping to foster a culture of innovation within organisations in South Asia, enabling employees to collaborate effectively using digital platforms, adapt to new technologies and find creative solutions to meet business objectives.

‘This has developed a greater level of trust in employees’ capabilities and their capacity to drive results regardless of their physical location,’ Shilpa says, adding that employers are more open to embracing remote and hybrid working structures as part of their long-term strategy. ‘They understand that providing flexibility and autonomy to employees can enhance work-life balance, increase job satisfaction, and attract and retain top talent.’

More information

Visit ACCA’s wellbeing hub for resources and advice