Work From Home-A future trend setter
The pandemic forced workers stay at home and do the office work. Almost all sectors of economy world over adopted the culture of work from home (WFH). — Anil Javalekar
The great impact of Covid-19 pandemic has been on the work culture. The pandemic forced workers stay at home and do the office work. Almost all sectors of economy world over adopted the culture of work from home (WFH). This changed the outlook of companies and workers together and now even after pandemic is over, the companies and workers are preferring to continue the system. The studies are being undertaken and assessments are being made to check the future of this culture of WFH. Definitely, the WFH culture is there to stay and family life may have to adjust to the culture.
Work From Home
‘WFH’ means employees are supposed to work from their house, apartment, or place of residence, or from anywhere, even during travels, rather than reaching to offices and working there for fixed time schedule. Employees are given laptops, cell phones, and access to the corporate network to enable them to perform work. Meetings take place via conferencing systems instead of in conference rooms. Documents are shared electronically instead of printed. Workflows are enabled via IT systems instead of physical interaction. Some companies are entirely virtual with no physical office at all, or maybe just a small space for company leaders to meet. Other companies have virtual workforce setup for functions like customer service. The sectors like agriculture and manufacturing or physical delivery type services, however, remained out of this ‘WFH’ culture.
WFH is not new concept
‘WFH’, however, is not a new concept. Before the Industrial revolution, most were family enterprises and all types of work was performed at home. India’s world-famous handicraft, jewellery making of stones, carving work in ivory, wood, stone and marble, work of ironsmith, spice production etc were all family enterprises and were performed from home. Even before many companies implement ‘WFH’ in an unprepared manner, many had some sort of experience before the pandemic. The companies like the IT and Software firms such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, International Business Machines (IBM), Cognizant etc. have used this system for quite some time.
Work away from home
Post industrial revolution, the production process shifted from household to big factories and workers moved from their home-based enterprise to the factory shop floor. This phenomenon continued for over three hundred years. The industrialization started with the workers coming together and working at a place called office or factory and almost all type of employers offered job on this condition of coming to the place of work. For this, employers made all arrangements that helped employees perform better including the providence of food by operating canteens and creating other associated amenities even welfare related activities. This was a cost to company in addition to the wages. All were happy with the system.
Covid-19 discipline forced changes
Covid-19 pandemic has changed all and the employer and employees both seems happy with the change. The change helped companies to reduce expenses on infrastructure like office place and all other necessary supportive amenities and facilities. The employees also got the freedom to work from home and helped avoid travel, escape from travel hassles and reduce travel expenses apart from helping them to give time to family and be supportive to housework.
Is WFH worth
The idea of WFH was basically to save human life from pandemic and still do some office work and continue the job and help companies to serve their purpose. There was not much in the beginning nor the ideas to save company expenses nor help employees to get the freedom of flexibility in work system. The pandemic forced to adopt the ‘WFH’ culture simply to survive. However, the idea was successful and helped both companies and employees beat the pandemic. This can be said that it served the purpose during the pandemic. The experiment was worth and was helpful. It helped mitigate air pollution and reduced Traffic congestion. WFH arrangement also provided a unique opportunity for women and other disabled hitherto not fully integrated in the workforce.
Problems with WFH culture
Major concern is of measuring productivity and performance management of employees and it is found that the productivity was less when work is done at home. Data Security, a threat to Intellectual Property Rights and issues of Cyber-security are the other major concerns. Many researchers feel that face-to-face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focused. From employee’s side, Internet connectivity and uninterrupted power supply is major problem. There are Issues associated with Female employees in India as sick family members, household chores need their attention. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of working from home for parents with younger children is managing their kids. This apart, there are problems of feeling of loneliness, anxiety and depression due to social isolation. Some employees were reluctant to telecommute because of the perception that working remotely hinders promotional opportunities.
Future of WFH culture
Covid-19 has brought most of the economic activities at sudden standstill barring some essential services in India. The WFH was not a voluntary choice for many of the companies and most tried to devise ad-hoc arrangements. It is true that WFH is not viable in manufacturing, government, law/order, Agri-based or infra-based operations and there are many issues that need consideration before accepting the WFH as normal culture.
1. if WFH becomes dominant as a work culture for the talent, very few engineers or technicians might choose to work in industries requiring on-site office attendance and that may result in residual talent going for office work which is not expected.
2. In WFH, the corporate values of gender diversity, ethnic inclusion etc. may face redundancy as people are forced to focus on output only and not the process thereof. That would be regressive for a progressing society. More than that, it is important to understand that the collective survival is a pre-requisite for success and find common ground for productivity and performance and that is possible only through processes of interaction and engagement. In WFH this becomes secondary and even if organizations consciously retain their values of inclusiveness, the opportunities to engage will be drastically reduced and that will harm real progress.
3. It is proven that WFH is especially hard on women for culturally it will add to their burden as they may be doing more housework. It is impossible for women to disconnect entirely from the housework while working from home. This is a big reason why women have dropped off the workforce in WFH environment. This is a cultural nuance which needs a mature recognition, particularly in a country like India.
4. For the young generation, WFH may be possibly a disaster. Real learning happens in proximity with leaders or in open environments where observation is an excellent source of learning. Similarly, leaders observe their team to spot signs of growth and over time groom talent and leadership. In WFH environments, these markers are harder to spot and are also easier to fake. This increases the cost of talent for companies as there are less learning and coaching opportunities and more probability of going wrong. The young may likely to lose more from WFH culture.
5. WFH is here to stay and has already set a future trend. Smart organisations will use it as an incentive to recruit rare talent or to combine transactional work tactically. Alternatively, some non-core segments of the company may adopt this model for cost management and/or operational flexibility.
Work from office will win
The one outlier possibility here is the deployment of Augmented Reality in office spaces – as holographic or 3D meeting rooms become the norm and augmented realities give the exact cognitive experience of being in an office space with colleagues and customers, it is likely that the physical meeting places will get dismantled. However, that only goes to prove that “Work from Office” will always win over “WFH” – just that it will become “Mind in Office Body at Home” culture.