Heralding flexible working in India: A shift from status quo
As per a study by Ernst and Young, about one-third of professionals globally say that work-life balance is becoming more difficult. Excessive overtime and a lack of flexibility are among the top reasons people leave jobs.
The rules of the employment game are being re-written faster than ever. Corporates are facing market disruptions by new entrants who are turning the traditional models of business redundant. Organizations need different skills to keep themselves in the game in an ever-changing scenario. Digital connectivity has added new dynamics to the entire employment model. Employees too are looking for more challenging assignments, more flexibility, and better work-life balance. Flexi working has become the new normal and is perhaps one of the most significant developments in working practices around the world. The millennial generation is willing to forego a fat pay package and promotions to opt for limited-period contracts that allow more room for experimentation.
India is rapidly catching up in supporting a remote work culture. While this trend was first adopted by startups, multinationals and large enterprises alike have been quick to embrace it as well. About 44% of business leaders say that one of the top socio-economic drivers of change in business is the “changing nature of work, flexible work”. Estimates by the global research company IPSOS indicate that about 57% of Indian employees telecommute frequently and another one-third work remotely every day – thus doing away with the stress that accompanies long travel and working hours. This kind of work culture also boosts productivity by teaching people how to attain a higher level of achievement and enjoyment, both on and off the job.
In a flexible work environment, people are valued more for their output. It helps companies in saving the overheads of running a full-steam office premise. Employees can use the time saved in travel to efficiently accomplish something worthwhile making it a win-win situation for both parties. Apart from this, the era of gender-specific roles has transcended to one where men share household responsibilities and women are an equally important part of the corporate culture. A flexible work environment allows them to devote time to their work and do many other things too. In some organizations, it can become difficult to fill up some critical positions in HR. Flexi work can help address these gaps during the search period. A case in point is the recent maternity act in which a female employee may be absent for about 6 months. Hiring someone on a flexi working basis can fill up this gap till the employee is able to join again.
Every coin has two sides and such a model has its share of challenges. Employees tend to feel a lack of connect with the overall company culture as there are fewer opportunities to engage with peers – which can further reduce the motivation to work. However, there are also jobs where people need to come to the office every day albeit for a certain number of hours. Then there are other problems such as maintaining data confidentiality, optimum internet connectivity without downtime and ensuring that tasks requiring a person to be present physically do not suffer.
Emergence of the gig economy
Given the pros and cons of a flexible work environment, many organizations are opting to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time permanent employees. Called the “gig economy” or open talent economy, it enables businesses and professionals to collaborate in a way that is mutually beneficial. Organizations are increasingly looking beyond the traditional consulting firms to find people who can get embedded in their workforce to provide the right expertise as and when required. The arrangement helps reduce the cost for the organization as they end up paying less than 1/3rd of what they would otherwise pay.
A flexible working culture must be built on trust, communication, collaboration, and connect, just as in a regular office set-up. Organizations must take into consideration the readiness, impact on client service, and the investment required. Technology is the backbone of the flexi working culture thus Messenger, intranet and internal social media, mobile enterprise apps must become mainstream. This, according to a Polycom survey, is a key factor in improving relationships and fostering better teamwork. A communication plan outlining the frequency of “check-ins” and interactions with the company team is also necessary.
On-demand engagement with workers around the country has the potential to truly change the landscape of doing businesses. However, what is needed is an open mindset and better articulation of the expectations and outcomes. Such a set-up will create an ecosystem that promotes healthier work cultures away from humdrum of the traditional work environment.