The challenges of homeworking by default: no 'one size fits all' solution. Takeaways from the event of 17 Sept 2020


Homeworking during the Covid-19 crisis is creating similar questions and challenges for all types of companies and organisations - large and small, cross-industry, private and public, etc. While there is of course a technological angle to the new reality in which employees working from home has become the norm, digital doesn't exist on an island. There is more to it that we must consider.


At our interactive N-sight, we took a look at the other implications of homeworking and 'balanced office work'. How does this fit with your existing HR policies? How can you mitigate the impact on your staff? Which methodology can help you ensure safe use of the office space? Securex and Deloitte shared their insights, based on their expertise and experiences.



The presentations and a link to the recording of the event are available after log in:



The Covid-19 crisis and its people-related impact on the Securex organisation and policies


The Securex team, with Frank Vander Sijpe, Director, and Gaëlle Houyoux, Expert RSE, at Securex kicked off the session with a story of Securex’s own internal experience as well as practices the Securex consultants have seen in the field.


Before the pandemic began, we were already living through VUCA times - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Frank recommends the book 'The Black Swan', by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, to get a perspective on this 'impact of the highly improbable'.


Then, a few months ago, the crisis very suddenly put us into a framework of homeworking by default. As a note, many companies have already decided to maintain the homeworking-by-default through the end of 2020.


Yet it remains a very different prospect than its previous incarnation, when it was more an optional and occasional phenomenon, whether organised structurally by the employer, or chosen by the employee.


Frank shared with us the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, and especially on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (slide 6). The unprecedented impact is approaching the figures of World Wars I and II.


Before the Covid crisis, emerging trends that impacted our daily live included: urbanisation, globalisation, climate change, demographics, the labour market, etc. These trends are still part of our world, but their impact has slowed down. On the other hand, the digitisation and technology trend has been accelerated.


We can conclude that Covid-19 has increased the distance between workers and their work environment and between each other. When looking at the future


  •  there will definitely be more working from home than before Covid-19
  •  more meetings will (partly) be set up digitally
  •  more trainings and events will be in an online setting
  •  the traditional (landscape of) desks will mostly disappear
  •  physical contact in the work space - shaking hands for instance - is probably history


This homeworking-by-default also has an impact on the well-being and performance of employees. Frank showed us the correlation between working from home (less or more than 50%) and a few topics in this area (autonomy, conflicts, relationship with colleagues, job satisfaction, etc.) (slide 9).


It is important to keep in mind the difference between employment and employability. Frank expresses it as 'strong people make strong companies' (slide 11).


Motivation is key, yet the quality of that motivation is just as important. Frank shared a self-determination model (slide 12), based on 'I want to', rather than 'I have to'.


Leadership also comes into the equation, especially in this era of knowledge work. The old rules of leadership need to make way for a leadership based on trust. The answers to these three questions from the employee towards his leader, express the quality of the latter’s leadership:


  • Can I trust you?
  • Do you know what you're talking about?
  • Do you take care of me?


Gaelle Houyoux complemented Frank's framework with the story of how Securex itself has dealt with the Covid crisis internally. Amongst other things:


  • The Securex teams were not all equally impacted (slide 16)
  • A hiring freeze was instituted throughout the company while part of the team was put on temporary unemployment
  • Working from home was already part of the Securex work culture, so resources and means were available. But employees in a role that doesn’t fit with working from home, were severely impacted.


Gaelle gave us a practical interpretation of the employability model that Frank had already mentioned (slide 18).


Securex also observed specific challenges in the mental/social health of the employees and in talent development. The first were tackled using:


  • Group initiatives
  • Regular communications
  • Prevention hotlines
  • Role of leaders


Gaelle also shared the actions Securex took to tackle the talent development challenge (slide 19).


The organisation is now evolving towards a new way of working (slides 20 and 21). In this process of transformation, Gaelle defined seven challenges:


  • Remote leadership & HR
  • Vigilance & protection of mental wellbeing
  • Re-thinking of purpose & re-shaping of the office environment configuration
  • Remote sense of belonging and social cohesion
  • New meaning of productivity
  • Work-life balance & work overload
  • Autonomy and responsibility as key success factors.



The new reality forces us to think differently


Deloitte has already had plenty of conversations with clients on their struggles with the new reality. And of course, they are also dealing with the impact on their own internal organisation.


Nathalie Vandaele, Human Capital Leader at Deloitte, emphasised at the start: there is no 'one size fits all' solution. Every organisation’s situation is unique: some organisations have been more impacted than others by Covid-19; some have mainly white-collar workers, mainly blue-collar workers, or a mixture of both; some already had adopted homework as a part of the culture; some have a more international footprint or local presence; etc.


Another important dimension is the 'three-time perspectives', as Nathalie calls it (slide 4).


 So for most companies, a mix of solutions is the best way to go.


The Deloitte team has observed that, whereas organisations often ask 'isolated' questions (on cyber security, IoT, supply continuity, the legal impact of commercial contract, etc. (slide 5), all of these aspects are actually connected. We need to re-imagine 'work', and balance the human experience and the organisational needs. Both play a significant role within the future organisational framework.


Virtual work is here to stay, Nathalie stresses. So make sure to have the basics right and aim at highly performing virtual teams.


Her colleague, Nicolas Vermandel, Global Employment and Benefit Leader at Deloitte, took the topic a step further with the legal implications of remote work. The international aspect (including expats and international offices) is one important facet (slide 11).


In Belgium, during the lock down, we were in a 'force majeure' situation, where the government forced organisations to set up homeworking for the employees. Since early May, telework has no longer been an obligation, yet it has become the norm. As a side note, many companies already had a homeworking policy.


But the legal basis provides that you need to have a written agreement, with each individual employee. For large companies that creates a major administrative burden.


However, under the law, when there is no written agreement, the only sanction is that the employee has the right to return to the office. So you might wonder: do we really need that agreement?


What about a homeworking policy? While it is not mandatory, it is highly recommended because:


  • Less administrative burden
  • Exemption of social security/tax for lump-sum home allowance (if any)
  • Increased flexibility
  • Well-being (provisions on working time/labour accident)
  • Data protection.


The employer has a few obligations as well (slide 15).


The salary and reimbursement component is obviously an important point of attention as well; Nicolas provided us with ins and outs (slides 16 and 17).


Steven Plehier, Senior Director Digital HR, finally topped off Deloitte’s insights with the impact on HR technology.


If you work remotely, you need to be able to work - this means you need the right technology (including proper video and collaboration tools) – and the availability of the technology. The technology capabilities need to fit in a human-centric design.


Covid-19 requires organisations to ensure the right digital landscape for staff to be productive and ‘connected’.


For starters, your transaction layer (with the core HR systems, the talent management system, etc.) must be solid. Next, the experience layer is all about having e.g. an employee centric portal, about workflow management (slide 20).


Your digital platform completes the landscape of HR technology: with automation, collaboration and integration. At that level, make sure HR collaborates intensively with IT!


Steven wrapped up with a few interesting considerations for this new reality (slide 21).


Outside of the event, but connected to the topic, you can check out the ‘Awaere’ platform by AE. It is at your disposal, free of charge, as a contribution to society. This platform aims to support the well-being and transparency of your team wherever you work.



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