Is work from home our future?

Is work from home our future?

"Mumma, is your call done?" said a faint sound from the back.

"Five more minutes, Val. Working from home is like having three to four jobs at the same time," exclaims Melissa.

Melissa Jacob (name changed on request) a media professional, shares her experience of being at home for so long for the first time. "I have never stayed at home for so long, and sometimes it burns you out," she says.

Melissa lives in the suburbs of Mumbai along with her husband and five-year-old daughter - Valani. "Usually, Valani leaves from home at 7.30 am and returns only at 8 in the night. She goes to school, then day-care and then classes," explains Melissa.

"Now that we are all at home, she (Valani) demands a lot of our time, and it's hard to manage work along with her," she adds.                    

Both media professionals, the couple generally spend a lot of their time in office. But the lockdown has allowed them to be able to spend time together.

"It often happens that I am on a call, and she (Valani) asks for something. Or the husband can't find the spatula," she laughs. "But this time has been truly fun. We sure have our own burnouts, but it's ok."

When asked if she was willing to continue working like this, Jacob said, "Oh! I would love to go back to my office soon."

What the polls say

Sakal Times recently conducted a poll on our Twitter handle to know if our followers preferred to work from home or office. While 44 per cent of people voted for work from office; 56 per cent of the followers voted for work from home (WFH). However, an Instagram poll showed a stark contrast in the results. Only 34 per cent voted in favour of work from home, and 66 per cent prefer working from their office.

Following up on the votes, we asked a few millennial employees why would they prefer to work from office rather than the comfort of their homes.  

Shraddha Sethi, a media professional, said, "Sitting at home makes me less productive. Sure, it was fun in the beginning, but now, there is hardly any motivation. It is also difficult to communicate and coordinate."

"From home, there is no time limit," said Anuj, an architect. "It is very difficult to manage your personal life and family life when you are working from home."

Devesh Prabhu, a corporate finance-geek said, "I miss having a routine. A timetable I could follow that kept my personal and professional life separate."

Considering the contrasting views, we also asked the voters of work from home about their preference.

"It is the comfort that makes working easy. I get to be in my own space and work on my own," said Prabha, a graphic designer. She has been working for a magazine for the last three years.

Nirbhay Singh, a sales manager, said, "I prefer to work from home because I don't have to worry about travelling and getting dressed at a particular time. I can sit at home while I continue to work without worrying about being late. I can also work according to my time."

Effect of WFH

A recent report released by a Bangalore-based start-up revealed that post-lockdown, about 67 per cent of Indians have been suffering from sleep deprivation. Moreover, according to the same study, over 81 per cent people believe their sleep schedule will improve post-lockdown.

One, of the many reasons suspected for this change in sleeping patterns, is the mounting pressure of managing work from home along with household work.

Rujuta Shetty is a single mother and works with a marketing firm in Chennai. Her daily schedule before the lockdown involved spending most of her time in office, as her day maid took care of the house and her son. Now being forced to stay indoors, she is having a hard time dealing with the household work and kid.

"The lockdown has turned my life upside down. I feel like I cannot give my best to my work or my son," said the mother.

"Before I had enough time in the day for the office and the evenings were reserved for my son. Now with no time limiting office work, it is work-from-home all day. I cannot imagine continuing like this," she added.

Rujuta is not alone; she is one of the many people struggling with the mounting pressures of working from home along with the sudden change in lifestyle. Overall affecting sleep patterns and productivity.

Work from home as a reality

If things continue to be the way they are, in all likelihood, work-from-home will be the next new normal.

Many companies have also started rolling out policies for shifting staff from the office, to work from home permanently. In a recent development, the information technology industry has approached the central government to chalk out changes to taxation and labour laws following the work-from-home model. Almost 4.3 million IT workers are estimated to be permanently working from home.

Industry body NASSCOM is also reviewing labour laws to be effective for a work-from-home situation. A top government official told ET, "It (revised policies) will (go) to relevant ministries such as the department of telecom and the labour ministry for action."

Currently, TCS is looking at moving 75 per cent of its workforce to work-from-home by 2025, while HCL Technologies has proposed to move 50 per cent staff to remote model, with the rest on a rotational basis. Sources reveal that Tech Mahindra may also start with 25 per cent WFH and then expand. Amazon has also globally declared that employees whose work can be effectively done from home, can continue to do so till October 2.

Earlier this week, social media site Twitter also announced that its employees will have the option to work from home forever. A few other companies have also mandated work from home till June end.

Feasibility of WFH

An important consideration while working from home is to measure productivity. Though older studies showed that working from home can boost productivity, Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economist, fears that the global outbreak of the pandemic might cause the productivity of remotely working employees to plummet.

"We are home working alongside our kids, in suitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days," says Bloom, a senior researcher at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIERP). "This will create a productivity disaster for firms."

Vikas Gokhale is a structural engineer and heads a team of 33 engineers in his company Associated Structural Consultants. He also has a PhD in Philosophy and is a visiting faculty at various colleges.

"The concept of collective consciousness always works. When you are in office, the team spirit, ambience all play a major role in obtaining higher productivity. You know that these hours of the day are dedicated to working, and you are motivated to do so," he says.

"In times like these, we have to adjust to the new format of working, but as leaders, we also know that productivity will be compromised to some extent. It is obvious because the number of distractions increases at home.

"Eventually, I would prefer my team to be back in office because the spirit of teamwork is built through face-to-face interaction," he adds.

The new normal

Depending on how the situation pans out for our country, it is important to consider that as a preventive measure, the work from home model might be here to stay for a long time. Major sectors capable of working remotely are already planning to shift their workforce to the WFH regime. Many more are looking at options.

With parents increasingly growing apprehensive of sending children to school, only time can tell what pans out for the workforce of our country.

While it is evident that post-lockdown there will be fewer team lunches, off-sites and annual events, it is almost certain the workforce will have to adapt and adjust to newer ways of networking and doing business.

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