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Work From Home: A FAD OR THE NEW NORMAL?
As lockdown restrictions are eased and people return to work, the question remains, is work-from-home (WFH) here to stay, or is it just a fad, a forced-choice that companies are making in times of social distancing due to the pandemic.
It seems that someone has pressed the pause button in our lives. Suddenly, the frenetic pace of the average urban office goer, synonymous with rush hour traffic jams and back-to-back meetings, has changed irrevocably. The office conferences have moved online, and hours of commuting have been replaced by endless hours of staring at the computer and incessant video conferencing calls. Say hello to the new workplace, your desk, in the comfort of your home. With the lockdown, we are now at a crucial crossroads in the fight against Covid-19; the virus has crippled economies and shut down countries and while we deal with the enormous healthcare challenges, the economic challenge might just be the more far-reaching one.
As lockdown restrictions are eased and people return to work, the question remains, is work-from-home (WFH) here to stay, or is it just a fad, a forced-choice that companies are making in times of social distancing due to the pandemic. Interestingly, back in 2010, work-from-home was often scoffed at as an impractical experiment, but in dealing with Covid-19, it is clearly a reality. Post the pandemic, it just might just become the new normal.
Leading companies across the globe are embracing flexible workplace arrangements out of a need to evolve with the times and also recruit and retain the best talent. An estimated 8.4 million days of time will be saved from reduced commuting hours due to the rise of flexible workplace according to a recent survey and not mention, the relief staggered working or WFH will provide to industry infrastructure and resources.
Recently, Jack Dorsey CEO, Twitter, announced that their employees can work from home permanently even after the Covid-19 pandemic ends. Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google told employees that the remote work policy will be extended till 2021. Most IT companies and Tech giants are encouraging the majority of the staff to opt for work-from-home.
Companies might need to make some tough choices to ensure the safety of their employees but on the face of it, it seems that WFH is here to stay. However, in the Indian context, WFH like everything else is more complex as India has its very own unique challenges. Sameer Garde, President, Cisco, India & SAARC, a worldwide leader in IT & networking says in an interview to Businessworld, “In the last few weeks, the core concepts of work and workplace have changed. While remote working is not new, especially to IT companies, the focus it is receiving now across verticals is unprecedented. As this trend becomes the new normal, workforces will become dispersed and diverse. But it takes time for 'new normals' to take hold. At this inflection point, leaders must help navigate unchartered waters and enable a smooth transformation.”
According to a recent report, during the lockdown, 90% of IT employees and 70-80% of BPO companies are estimated to be working from home and only those involved in critical functions are going to office. Clearly, for the IT sector, the transition to WFH is smoother than others, given the fact that training needed for remote working is already in place.
However, for many businesses, the very nature of work does not allow for remote working, so will it work for all sectors? What about non-tech companies? How will they align themselves to the WFH scenario? Are they geared with the required policies and infrastructure to ensure work-from-home?
“For me it is not about the IT and non-IT sector, I would say that clearly there are many jobs, which cannot be adequately and professionally completed in a domestic setting. Lockdown or no lockdown, there will be people who will need to step out and work with machines or interact with people to accomplish what they must do, therefore WFH will not be feasible for a number of domains and sectors.” says Satya Priya Yadav, CEO, e-novation Centre.
But let us look at it from an employee’s lens, how practical is WFH? A senior professional with a reputed firm in Gurugram, says “I have been successfully working from home for a while. Technology has been a big enabler and many tasks do not require physical interaction with the team or a client. Though it is not everyone’s cup of tea, I would say WFH will continue post-pandemic, full-time for few and part-time for others. How it finally pans out for the majority will depend on several factors. In the short run, the decision is of course forced because of the lockdown measures. The real moment of truth will come when the pandemic ends -
There is another side to the story, which is not so alluring. After all, many people lack proper support systems or environments at home. With children having online classes and both, husband and wife working from home, lack of multiple devices and adequate Wi-Fi connectivity are serious challenges. Managing household chores and children, while working from home is an added stress for both partners.
So, while some see WFH becoming a reality, others cannot wait to get back to the comfort zone of their workplaces. An HR professional who does not wish to be named feels she was better off working in an office, as there were defined boundaries. With WFH, boundaries are blurred, there is no distinction between 2 am and 2 pm.
However, post-COVID-19, just strolling back into your workplace will not be an option. Masks, sanitizers, social distancing, and other measures will have changed the workplace irrevocably. Even then, the workplace cannot just be done away with. Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group had tweeted, “Tradition of the workplace will remain predominant. Those who predict large-scale WFH are looking through affluent country lenses." That is also a perspective as small companies might not be equipped with the necessary technology, data security or manpower required to make WFH an effective replacement to the workplace
While, work from home is fortification from the coronavirus and reduced commute, experts warn that spending more hours working could disrupt the work-life cycle. “Prolonged social distancing is likely to lead to mental health outcomes,” says Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis.
Clearly the impact will be multi-fold. Companies will start being more open to a diverse workforce with a combination of WFH, part-time and gig workers. Firms will have to trust their employees and look at productivity, not micromanagement. HR managers will have to stop focusing on the number of hours clocked-in and focus on getting the work done and keeping the employee morale high. With firms becoming more open to hiring gig workers, the other obvious concern is cybersecurity. Companies will also need to invest in data security and ensure their data is not compromised by employees working from their homes. Going forward, firms need to re-invent themselves, to stay secure without compromising productivity. At the same time, organizations need to show empathy and prioritize a positive mindset and employee well being even if it means allowing more independence, working away from a fixed office location, and being open to a more flexible work arrangement. The ramifications of the impact of work-from-home on the permanent workplace are too many to navigate through in one glance. The positive impact on operational costs and resources and long-term sustainability will be immense.
With time and experience, a pleasant off-shoot of the new flexible workplace might be the impetus it provides to gender parity - may be, WFH might enable more women to come back into the workforce and garner the respect and recognition they deserve but then that’s another story for another time.
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