This is how remote work changed employee relationships

This is how remote work changed employee relationships

With the epidemic that swept the globe in the previous two years, most workers were obliged to work from home, ushering in a new era of remote work that has altered management relationships in particular.

Victor Phang, CEO of WorkSmartly, discusses with on how companies will have to analyse this change in order to take a more human approach to remote working.

In this question and answer series, featuring WorkSmartly, we asked Mr Phang to describe how remote work has changed employee relationships in all aspects, with management and their peers, exploring these changes is imperative for proper human resource management, amongst others.

Here are his answers to our many questions:

Victor Phang: There are three main areas that remote work has affected the employee relationship. 

The feeling of isolation. Although there are a lot of tools and applications that can support communication, based on our survey we found that more than 80% increase in sending messages within the organization are purely work related.

  • However, when people are working in an office, our conversation could be beyond work, including family, kids, shopping, etc. Even more, in a physical workplace, you may be introduced to some other colleagues in other departments which might be beneficial to your work. The social interaction is in fact decreasing in a remote workplace. A good and sustainable relationship is built by both social and professional interactions. So many employees report feeling left behind by their bosses, who did not provide adequate support during the pandemic. 
  • The employee’s engagement. Before the pandemic, companies would organize physical activities like free breakfasts, birthday celebrations, team building activities to enhance engagement. However, all these activities might not be available even until today. Although some forms of gathering are allowed, due to risk management, many companies still avoid group gathering kinds of events. In fact, we should have different kinds of views on how to enhance the employee’s engagement digitally. Start from the workflow itself, how the work is being assigned and what kind of support system is in place if employees face issues on their work. The above two areas lead to the third area.
  • Employee experience. The pandemic has actually increased the trend of employers playing an extended role in their employee’s financial, physical and mental well-being. Support included enhanced sick leave, financial assistance, adjusted hours of operation and childcare provisions. Some organizations supported the community by offering free community services and food baskets, while some organizations have recognised the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic, and have prioritized the well-being of employees as a people over as a worker. Some companies have pushed their employees to work in conditions that are high risk with little support, treating them as workers first and people as second. Be very careful in which approach you take, be mindful of the effect of the employee’s experience, which would be long-lasting.

New work arrangements

How interpersonal relationships and employee engagement have changed as people transition into their new work arrangements, be it back at the office or to a hybrid format?

Victor Phang: Interpersonal relationships and employee engagement have changed since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. People start to get used to working from home, contacting people by using technologies and so on. The most obvious change is that physical interaction has decreased ever since the pandemic. We can’t even have a simple handshake as everyone is scared of the virus. The daily stand-up meetings, lunch break or coffee session have become a memory that we always bring out during conversation. Other than that, the way of communication had changed. Before the pandemic, we got used to face to face and everything was done manually. Right now, people are getting comfortable with devices and technologies. They could straight away find their co-workers or clients by all the communication tools without driving to the destination as all is through virtual settings. Actions that previously required a long amount of time, such as driving to work, waiting for feedback on a report and many more tasks are able to be reduced to seconds and resolved in time. 

As the world enters its third calendar year of living through a pandemic, how can employers design competitive employee appreciation programs that will ensure higher motivation, satisfaction, and growth?

Victor Phang: The employers could go back to the basics, how we talk to our employees from time to time, our willingness to support, or be there for them when they face challenges. In other words, knowing them as a person who may have family or personal issues, showing them you care. I think this is the most important and fundamental appreciation, every employee needs even more during this period. In addition, I think the company could launch flexi-benefits which employees get to choose their preferred benefits based on the budget provided by the company to each individual employee. Instead of giving apply-to-everyone kind of benefits which may not be applicable to some of the employees. For example, medical benefits for single or young employees, they might look for basic medical insurance. But for employees with family, they might want to have a family-based kind of insurance. So the key is relevancy and applicability of a recognition that a particular employee desires, especially the top performers.


How effective digitalisation and proper online communication channels are here to stay and will dominate work culture moving forward.

Victor Phang: We can communicate faster and more cost-effectively. If you’re in the same room with someone, there’s certainly nothing faster than just opening your mouth and talking. But in our current situation, many of the people we need to communicate with are in different locations. Technology allows us to easily connect with people everywhere using our choice of forums.


We don’t have to wait for a stamped letter to make its way across the miles or rack up a big long-distance phone bill; instead via the Internet we can instantly reach almost anyone whether through email, instant message, social media, or countless apps. As the speed of communicating has ramped up, costs have been dramatically reduced.

We have more choices of how to communicate. As the communications playing field grows more complex, we have access to even deeper layers of connection with others. You can now collaborate with others in your work group using advanced collaboration tools that make it as easy to work with people in remote offices as when they’re right next to you. WorkSmartly’s Smart Story, for example, has office productivity tools that allow teams to instantly share information. Or many other free platforms that allow users to save their work in the cloud or on their smartphone, laptop, tablet, or desktop. The tools give teams access to each other’s edits and comments on the same document or spreadsheet, facilitating communication and collaboration toward common goals.

Pre-pandemic, work culture is something abstract or intangible. With a company-wide chatting room it is now easier for everyone to communicate the culture. For example, thanking a colleague for being kind when assisting. Then you can express that “being kind” is one of the company’s values and culture.

More on employee engagement

Lets work smartly – photo-Clark Tibbs

Why the human element matters in employee engagement amid the endemic and how the full array of tools that systems like WorkSmartly has can help facilitate this.

Victor Phang: Human element matters in employee engagement amid the endemic because no matter how advanced technology we have, it could not replicate the human-touch. Every part of the business is related to people, technologies need people to keep on evolving and people need technologies to keep on enhancing their work quality. These two are interdependent on each other. Human elements are needed even during endemic times because robots can’t understand irrational thought, context, or the intangible benefits of personalized customer service. 

  • They could use the features of WorkSmartly such as Smart Story, Value Go-Live & Mission Whiteboard that are available in WorkSmartly system to share company mission’s statements, remind the employees of the company to their employees plus encourage peer-to-peer learning while requiring the Smart Story features, especially for the newly onboarded employees. 
  • HR teams could look to employ HRM tools to make these available for all to see, serving as a guidepost for employees as they may struggle or be feeling a little overwhelmed. For example, WorkSmartly has successfully assisted Sony employees in creating this effect through their Mission Whiteboard and Value Go-live features. This had marked results in pulling employees back into focus when they worked from home during Malaysia’s Movement Control Order. Quick and handy tools like an appropriate HRM system can help ensure effective two-way communication, providing employees with a safe space to share their thoughts and ensure that constructive feedback is being delivered to both parties. Moreover, in the current climate every company needs an HRM system for baseline management tasks like payslip records, leave application, expense claims and so on. Using this application that quantifies the behavior of employees and tracks the success rate can be beneficial to establishing and maintaining efficient practices. For example, the WorkSmartly system has been used by Sony to measure and monitor employee performance. This has resulted in 98.6% employee attendance and punctuality with less than 1% attrition rate. Ultimately, features offered by tools like WorkSmartly can assist an HR department to manage the changing and increasing workload while keeping things simple and easy for employees. Choosing the right HRM system can benefit the company as a whole and not just the HR department.

The role of HR teams

Photo: @marvelous

The role of HR teams in keeping employees happy and satisfied with the pandemic in the backdrop and the incoming endemic period.

Victor Phang: These are the three main roles of HR teams that could keep their employees happy and satisfied with the pandemic in the backdrop and the incoming endemic period. 

  • Facilitator – They need to really help to ensure the compliance of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) if the non-compliance imposes high risk to the company. 
  • Supporter – They need to support both management and also employees, where be it supporting their mental wellbeing, the workflow and the workload. Most importantly, it would be the work life balance. What kind of policy needs to be implemented to support both management and employees. 
  • Consultant – Advising manager, how to treat their employees, and advising the employees how they should respond to the company during this pandemic or during remote workplace. 

Please do not only focus on administrative roles like processing documents, payroll and more. That is the basic but now HR needs to move out and make sure everyone is happy. 

Why HR teams need to adapt to new practices with an open mind.

Victor Phang: HR teams need to adapt to new practices with an open mind because in order to improve themselves, an open mind is a very important element. Open-minded HR teams are more adaptable to a unique work environments and jobs especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, they are usually better equipped to cope with jobs and tasks. Other than that, an attitude of open-mindedness has more flexibility than the others, that means they are more capable to take a job where it requires multitasking. Because of the willingness to learn and try new things, it allows HR teams to handle tasks much easier since they are capable and ready for it. Next, with an open-minded HR team, it helps them to work through any interpersonal or intra-team related conflicts, this is because they know that without a spirit of listening and cooperation, they can’t complete projects and optimize quality. This means that teamwork could be created and being fully utilized and enhanced by an open-minded HR team in order to optimize their work and task. With an open mind, HR teams are able to be more adaptable to a unique environment, more flexible in multitasking and able to efficiently increase the teamwork elements.

Photo Caption: Victor Phang CEO and Founder of WorkSmartly