Work from home: boon or bane?

Covid-19 has brought about new paradigms. This is what is now being popularly referred to as the “New Normal”! According to FlexJobs Study, remote working has increased in the US by 159% between 2005 and 2017. While work from home has existed in the western world for a long time it has been slowly becoming more common in India as well. Has Covid-19 accelerated this phenomenon? Are we going to see new paradigm shifts due to corona? Will IT, ITES and other companies move towards a more structured work from home (WFH) model and define policies around it? All interesting questions, right? Let us evaluate these thoughts.

Being a people-person, I love to work in an office environment. Interacting with my teams often energizes me. I genuinely believe that organizational culture is built when people work in an environment surrounded by other colleagues and therefore have often pushed back on the idea of WFH in my own organization. During the recent lockdown, we had to shut down all our facilities including my factory. While the manufacturing business took a complete knock as work from home was not even an option there, my IT business continued to operate as most of my teams managed to work from home so the actual business did not get affected. So truly, in a sense it was a boon for me.

I have often interacted with my teams and mentees from my training programs in the past couple of months since the lockdown to find out how they feel about the work from home scenario that Covid-19 has created. I often get mixed responses. While some absolutely love it, I feel like many people are looking forward to getting back to the office again. Interestingly, some of the very people who used to ask for WFH are yearning to work from the office again. I had a mentee remark recently, “I always complained about the Bangalore Traffic but I have decided not to complain again once the lockdown is over as I am dying to go back to the office”. Another said, “This whole WFH is a western phenomenon, not suitable for Indians”. Yet another complained about the lack of internet bandwidth at home and someone else complained about the disturbance at home and the lack of focused work spaces. Those who swear by it say that it has actually made them work longer hours. They said that they save on commute times, are more efficient, spend quality time with family etc with WFH. So the best answer to the question “Is work from home a boon or a bane?” is, “It really depends!”

Let us look at the various factors that may affect this decision.

Nature of the Job: It is obviously easy for a software developer to work from home. All they need is a good laptop, internet connection and more importantly they have to be left alone without being actively managed. This is probably the best solution for them and can churn out some amazing codes. However, this is just an example and there are other roles which require regular interaction with people, supervision, meetings etc., which are better done in the office. Also according to a study, only 56 % of the management trust their employees to work from home, even when policies allow it. There is also a general belief that WFH employees don’t work as hard as the others, however, this largely depends on the nature of the job.

Personality Traits: It is very clear that extroverts often draw energy from interacting with other people and they would most likely enjoy an office environment. Someone who is an introvert would love to work from home option as long as they have their personal space defined at home and there is no one to bother them. They probably will thrive more in a set up like that. People who are task oriented could thrive in a WFH set up while the people-oriented individuals will do better in an office environment.

Cultural Issues: Western cultures are mostly nuclear in nature, which makes it easy for people to work from home, whereas in cultures like we have in India where the family plays a big role and joint families are still the norm, it may at times be challenging to get that personal space to work efficiently from home. Imagine children crying, older people needing attention and more. This makes it hard to focus on work while at home.

Infrastructure: Internet connectivity, Electricity, Air Conditioning etc. are key to the smooth functioning of WFH. However, given the situation in India, many homes lack these even today and this can cause potential issues. This is a major issue that is causing problems for some people who are trying to work from home even now.

From a business perspective also, there are both pros and cons. As WFH gains more popularity, it is clear the corporations will gain significant savings from rental payments, employee benefits, catering, transportation costs etc. On the flip side, organizations have to think about how they will remote manage workflow, process issues, data security, ethical issues etc. We also have to wonder what it would do to the overall economy where entire business verticals like Transport, Catering, Real Estate etc. will take a huge hit.

In summary, while it’s a boon for some it’s a bane for the others. While digital is changing the way we live, are we becoming so digital that we will miss so many things that life has to offer when we interact with other human beings? Clearly in the post Covid world or “AC” (After Covid) as it is being popularly called, we are staring at WFH being the norm. According to a Gartner Inc. survey, 74% of CFOs plan to shift at least 5 % of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions and 6% of leaders plan to keep 50% or more positions remote even after restrictions are lifted. Even Government of India has announced a WFH policy for its employees post lockdown. 

The lockdown experience has certainly accelerated the move towards WFH, but at what cost? Only time will tell…

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