As Nova Scotia reopens, this company’s staff can permanently work from home – - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

As Nova Scotia reopens, this company’s staff can permanently work from home –

The COVID-19 pandemic could be an opportunity for employers to rethink how — and where — their employees are working, according to the head of a Dartmouth, N.S., company.

Saeed El-Darahali, president and CEO of SimplyCast, said the company will create a permanent work-from-home option for employees even as restrictions lift and businesses begin to reopen.

He said he made the decision after hearing feedback from staff over the last couple of months.

“The employees have shared with us that the reduction in travel, being able to eat at home, drink at home, and have that quality of life has been tremendous,” he said.

The tech company of about 30 people began preparing to work from home about a month before Nova Scotia first called a state of emergency. Three employees, including El-Darahali, have continued working from the nearly 7,000-square-foot office.

SimplyCast conducted a survey about a month ago asking if employees would like to go back to the office or continue working from home. While most wanted to continue working from home, about a third said they missed coming into the office and having face-to-face interactions.

El-Darahali said the new work-from-home option will be an either/or situation, where staff will choose between permanently working from home or permanently working at the office.

Challenges and opportunities

While the company was well-prepared from a technological standpoint to work from home when the pandemic began, El-Darahali said he believes the biggest long-term challenge of working from home will be mental health.

In a typical office environment, staff are used to seeing each other every day and having face-to-face interactions. But if someone’s working from home, it could be months before they see their co-workers.

He also said it can be challenging to communicate electronically as well, since people might miss non-verbal communication cues and misinterpret things if they’re chatting through text instead of in person.

“When we’re dealing with electronic workplaces and electronic interactions, a lot of people are going to miss some of those cues,” he said. “And they’re going to cause some challenges for a lot of companies and employees.”

He said companies can mitigate this by connecting with their staff through video conferencing programs like Zoom. El-Darahali also said when it’s safe to do so, he plans on holding more group activities outside of work so staff can see their co-workers more often.

SimplyCast has a team of 30 employees, most of whom have been working from home since the pandemic began. (SimplyCast)

But working from home can also open the door to a number of new opportunities. For one thing, El-Darahali said he can more easily hire people from around the world as the company expands globally.

He also said that if enough people want to work from home, he’ll consider downsizing to a smaller office — though he said the cost savings from that are “not that significant,” especially since the company still needs to pay for equipment for staff working from home.

“The thing we’ll probably save the most on as an organization is probably the supplies that we buy — toilet paper, hand sanitizer, things that we’ve had even before the pandemic — which, on average, take probably anywhere from half a per cent to a per cent of revenue of an organization,” he said.

That being said, El-Darahali said any companies that can reasonably have their staff work from home should consider doing so. He said he hasn’t had a reduction in work productivity since his employees began working from home.

A new age of work

El-Darahali also said the pandemic has highlighted the fact that working from home is within reach for many companies.

“The way that we worked as a workforce has been basically set in the industrial age … and we’ve kind of kept it that way ever since,” he said.

He said the gig economy has already helped shift the mindset that people can work from home, but the pandemic is now forcing employers to actually make it happen.

“I think the trend was already there, but the employers didn’t want to invest heavily in the technological requirements to allow that to happen.… The pandemic has basically accelerated that.”

Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

He said several of the chamber’s members have expressed that their employees are interested in continuing to work from home.

Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, says COVID-19 is making some employers change their attitudes toward working from home. (Halifax Chamber of Commerce)

“We’ve broken the paradigm, if you will, that working from home is a bad thing,” he said.

“And I think people have begun to realize that working from home, you can get as much, if not more, completed during the day.”

He said in the coming months and years, employers may need to reconsider the amount of space their employees need, whether it’s less space because people are working from home, or more space to allow for physical distancing.

According to Statistics Canada, an additional 3.3 million Canadians began working from home in April.

It says most people who worked from home were in industries like professional, scientific, and technical services; finance, insurance and real estate; and public administration.


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