Comfort Zones Beyond Remote Working

But the human (virtual though it may be) connect continued and in several cases, the workload multiplied manifold. Whether it was because one had to manage both work and home or whether it was because work required much more to be managed


Not long ago were we extolling the virtues of being able to run businesses remotely. Yes, there were struggles with bawling children (for those without the benefit of full-time nannies) or the empty nest syndrome. There was also the need to contend with either being part of a messy abode or finding the time, energy and enthusiasm for settling it to make it more livable or shall we say, VC-able. But then came virtual backgrounds to the rescue of all those lesser inclined to manage it all or perhaps not used to it, leaving it to the scarcely available domestic help, or perhaps (for the lucky few) the one that inhabited the abode along with their busy selves, thus ensuring no additional workload came their way.

Whatever may have been the way of life while we were in forced lockdowns, or self-enforced quarantines, the necessity of the times made us adjust to it. Of those with less luxury of space, it meant to hop from one shape of furniture to another from morning to night in order to give the feel of a day that had begun/ ended. For others with the luxury of space and the (misfortune of) lesser human life around, it was about inhabiting different rooms at different times of the day. But the human (virtual though it may be) connect continued and in several cases, the workload multiplied manifold. Whether it was because one had to manage both work and home or whether it was because work required much more to be managed.

Especially in the manufacturing space, while several worked from home (in case of certain functions amenable to it), there were many others who had to be at their work places, the factories or warehouses which were allowed to function. Thus what was perhaps simpler to deal with when the wave first hit us in India, became more complicated when the second one hit. The hybrid mode of working is activated in different functions! That may have already seemed complicated to deal with, until came the hybrid mode within functions- with some folks choosing to work from home while others couldn’t stay away from work, or shall we say, were happy to stay away from home.

There came a litany of complaints as those who thought being in office was more productive tried to share their angst with those who preferred staying away, for reasons of their safety (from the virus) or perhaps the compulsion of managing a household (with perhaps younger children) who had no choice but to be at home- what with schools not being physically open and day care-s being considered risky, if available at all, that is.

What seemed to continue seamlessly as a way of working, remote work that is, became a topic of much discussion as several leaders no longer considered it an imperative while several found it as an inefficient way of running teams or managing work. What was obvious was the unwillingness of several to change even though unfortunate circumstances forced us to try newer ways of running our lives and managing our work. Whether viewed in terms of savings in time and energy or in terms of safer workplaces as one avoids overcrowding in times that are still unprecedented, professionals have had the opportunity to mend their ways and adapt to more productive options with several tools at our disposal. Unfortunately, several seemed to have missed the opportunity, choosing to revert to old ways at the first available instance.

In a recent talk on ESG, one of the experts talked about us changing our ways of living in the next couple of decades. This included cycling to work (a rare though not unseen example in today’s times). Why do I bring it up here? Well, if folks find it so difficult to optimize travel and work from home rather than travel a couple of hours to have the feel of more members around, the likelihood of making such tectonic shifts in transport in order to make a planet more sustainable seems doubtful. Of course, enforcement of such discipline by powers that be, maybe the only way to make it happen.

This applies across levels in the corporate hierarchy. So, for instance, as the regulator allowed for Board meetings to be done virtually, most Board members contended with being comfortable with that way of oversight. However, at the first instance of what felt (individually) comfortable, there were several who took the opportunity to appear at the venues, much to the chagrin of those who continued to choose the online mode for obvious reasons. In fact, it is much to the credit of the regulator to allow the continuation of virtual Board meetings rather than compelling all to be present in the physical mode when the threat of that-which-has-changed-our-lives continues to lurk around us.

However, the compulsion faced by those remote to make their presence felt physically continues; primarily because hybrid modes are not the most efficient as several people, who have tried doing meetings with many folks physically in the room while others stay virtual, have already realized. In fact, we cannot blame the teachers for not managing hybrid learning with young children, when we as professionals have not yet learnt to manage it well. The discussion quickly becomes about including those who are physically around, much to exclusion, physically and intellectually of the virtual colleagues.

It takes a very mature and willing set of beings to be able to drive change without being compelled to do so. Reverting to old ways is always much easier than defying convention. But then never was following convention known to birth great leaders or drive a better way of life. That is probably the reason that organizations looking to drive turnarounds believe in the less fixated (perhaps younger) lot to enable it to happen than those who believe in having been-there-done-that!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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