Debjani Roy, CHRO – Mind Your Fleet

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Negotiating Work-From-Home (WFH) as the new normal in work-life: An insight into the experiences from the professional world thus far. By Debjani Roy, CHRO – Mind Your Fleet

When the Global pandemic COVID 19 broke loose, Corporates across the world were the first to get alarmed at what this could mean for their productivity and continued sustenance in the immediate as well as long terms. As a response, emerged the Global Work-From-Home movement that primarily intended to maintain output and delivery, besides promising to sustain efficiency levels during the crises.

Apart from the above, there were other obvious benefits and advantages that were referred to especially for women professionals such as:

 

  • Avoiding long commutes

 

  • Skirting office Politics

 

  • More time for self

 

  • Striking a far better work-life balance

 

However, the experiences borne out of Work From Home this far have produced few mixed results, indicating some pitfalls, rather than improvements all along as was thought of and expected earlier. Suddenly it is dawning upon research experts and analysts that the new model of remote working and telecommuting largely could actually generate a worldwide productivity slump and threaten economic growth for many years. And why so? Because suddenly, today’s work force are having to work alongside their children, in ill-defined and unsuitable spaces, with very little choice throughout the day to do things differently, and with almost no ‘in-office days’ as stress-busters. What’s happening today with the coronavirus crisis is completely different from what was envisaged earlier as a measure of Corporate efficiency and productivity, thanks to four factors: children, space, privacy and choice.

Let’s analyse a few from up-close.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of working at home for parents with young children is managing the kids. The closure of creches and schools and transition to ‘distant’ and ‘digital’ learning for children (students) has forced many a working parents, especially the mothers, to take on the role of full time teachers. One requirement therefore, for a successful work-from-home program for any business is the requirement that children are in school or day-care. This is even more so for women professionals. It therefore has not taken too long for naysayers to declare that working from home is “overrated.”

And yes, it is an option mostly for white-collar office workers. Telecommuting is rarely possible for people in manufacturing or service jobs, and for the health workers, emergency responders, grocery store clerks and delivery people who have been deemed essential personnel.

Nor can the other downsides be denied. Trying to meet on Zoom from a kitchen table with bored children and annoyed spouses complaining in the background is hardly good for productivity. Women say that video calls make it harder for them to get in a word during meetings dominated by men. This crisis has also increased the burdens on working mothers.

Telecommuting was already a growing trend earlier that was mostly prevalent in the IT and ITES and related industries, where often enough the WFH option was offered by employers to deserving employees as a perk or benefit. It was also an option left with global recruitment teams who could thereby recruit talent anywhere across countries, with-out being location dependent. However, such a working model often left out many low-wage workers and was viewed warily by employers who worried people were slacking off at home.

Researchers have begun to warn that problem solving and creativity would definitely suffer when workers are isolated from one another. The phenomenon is called ‘Psychological Isolation’, wherein employees working at remote locations away from each other (including home locations) develop severe withdrawal symptoms, including nervous breakdowns at times. And Isolated work can lead to loneliness and boredom.

Remote workers have also reported that they have had to work even longer hours, when compared to normal office working.

Having said that, WFH is still being considered as a work model with many benefits. Prerequisites – for remote work to be successful, employers need to provide the right equipment and other support, while the employees must be able to get work done without supervision. The benefits are:

 

  • Less time spent on road, leading to Cleaner cities and environments, besides better control on Personal health

 

  • Greater Productivity– studies have shown that for a mid-sized company, a change in working model from office working to remote working resulted in anything between a 10 – 13% increase in productivity

 

  • A cleaner environment (perhaps)– Social distancing will always dictate some people to make use of their personal vehicles, because of the fear of contracting the disease when travelling by public transport. Still it is estimated that Globally more people would like to avail remote working hence, save the world from Transport fuelled toxic emissions. Cars will still however be used for running errands for the household.

 

  • Money saved– A win-win for both, while employers will spend much less on infrastructure and facilities from now on, the work force would spend much less on Fuel as well as on Day Care items.

 

  • More Job Satisfaction– Current research is fast proving that job satisfaction increases with each additional hour people get to spend working remotely. But it stops increasing beyond 15 hours worked remotely. One definitely needs to take cognizance of the same.

 

  • Less Sickness– Today, employers are considering multiple hygiene and safety features to be built into the Workplace when employees begin to return – such as plexiglass barriers on desks, and special air filters. That may still not be enough to attract the workforce to come back to offices – since there’s a new found fear of communicable diseases (besides just Corona) that has made home in the minds today.

 

  • More ‘me’ time, Work-life balance– This has anyways been a very major concern in Corporate life till date. Remote working does promise to resolve some of the noise around the same.

 

Post COVID-19 therefore, it seems that many people who would have never considered this kind of working life have now had a taste of it, and they are loving it. It is a paradigm shift in the way of Corporate working, and may be here to stay. Its early days yet – and time will tell how far such new models of work would become the mainstay of Corporate life from here onwards.

 

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