WFH (work from home) is the new buzzword in the corporate world and now the government of India has also joined that by looking at ‘Flexi Labour Laws’. This implies that WFH is here to stay.
In fact, CFOs have already made a case on how direct and indirect cost savings can happen on account of WFH. Chief Administrative Officers have also factored in lowering their team’s headcount because fewer logistics issues will arise at the workplace. HR is equally excited to propose online induction and team building programs, push for the case of a better work-life balance through WFH, and also attempt improving the diversity factor on account of this change. There are serious discussions about how women will significantly benefit from WFH because they can more easily multi-task. In a nutshell, everyone has figured out the benefits of WFH and is eager to back it up with appropriate policies and processes for immediate implementation.
WFH will make jobs mobile and people stationary. With geographical constraints becoming irrelevant, opportunities will go global and so will competition for jobs
What does WFH mean to the workforce of the future? While it is evident that people will spend less time on travel, and be more productive in their roles, it also appears that people will also strike a better balance between creative and practical urges and experience a more fulfilling engagement with their organizations. But that’s just a short-term view. When life continues beyond the immediate benefits, what does the crystal ball say about the long-term impact of WFH?
In future, two things are expected to happen
Firstly, WFH will be embedded in new job descriptions whereby organizations have policies and practices to tell employees which roles will be predominantly WFH and which will be done predominantly from the ‘office’. Work From Office (WFO) will be a place for research, manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation (delivery) oriented functions that require specialized equipment, environment, or infrastructure. It could also mean legally or socially required places like a government’s office, bank, police stations, etc. where people have to go there physically to perform their duties. Thus, jobs in future will be classified as WFO or WFH.
For WFH jobs, candidates, besides having requisite skills for the job, must also have access to good bandwidth connectivity and a private space called the home office. Ideally, this should be noise-free and access-controlled—children should not be able to come and go from the room, for example. Do recall the stereotypical job description of a traveling salesman: ‘those with two-wheelers, preferred!’
As a result, the real estate industry will see an eruption of studio homes: homes that double up as an office with studio-like features of soundproof walls, well equipped with devices and digital connectivity, which enables collaborative functioning. The other demand will be that there needs to be as many studio rooms as there are people in the house! Sounds absurd? Well, if families had multiple cars and several drivers for the WFO culture, for WFH they will need multiple personalized spaces as children’s schooling too will be from home and elderly parents will need their own spaces for entertainment and care.
In the short term, studio homes will cause a disturbance called ‘social entropy’. Families will be living together under one roof but have their preferred visiting and socializing hours. Family members will plan to meet over meals and get-togethers unless the ‘anytime boss’ call’ gets into their schedules.
Although WFH will appear chaotic and daunting initially, the persevering human skills and sophistication of technologies will ease everyone into a new format of co-learning, co-working, and co-living.
What was a feature of the past—people traveling on account of work—fuelled demand for the aviation, hospitality, personal transportation and shopping industries. Further, jobs involving travel were also considered aspirational. WFH will change all these perceptions and also disrupt the fortunes of those few industries associated with traveling for work.
The second feature has a bigger impact
WFH will make jobs mobile and people stationary. Hitherto, job-seekers—nomads, migrants, and business travelers—migrated or temporarily shifted to work in roles that were important to them. However, after WFH, jobs will come to people, wherever they are. Collaborative and real-time technologies will become superior for providing professional experience. For a company, this means it can seek qualified resources from anywhere in the world. Why shouldn’t someone, with requisite competence, living in Estonia apply for a job that was published in India? With geographical constraints becoming irrelevant, opportunities will go global and so will competition for jobs.
WFH is not just about interacting with people to complete a task remotely. It is also not limited to appreciating how different functions collaborate in the launch of a new product or service an important client by staying physically distant.
The underlying phenomenon is that jobs will become mobile. The resource pool for any job will become global. This will create imbalances in the jobs market and people will be expected to have more skills than what is normally specified in the job description.
Global roles require people to work through differences in languages, cultures, habits, beliefs, and biases. Engaging with those people who do not WFH, will be a complex affair. In a global, collaborative workforce, team members need to be sensitive to the methods, styles and show deeper understanding to fellow members. One needs to accept emotions and logic which may be different and divergent to one’s anticipation. Roles in the future are going to be a complex mix of soft and technical skills, required from the entry-level to the highest in the hierarchy. In some sense WFH roles will appear similar to the global helpdesk call center jobs where Janardhan with an accent becomes John at the workplace, conversing effectively with his global client to help her find her credit card’s password. The difference is that Janardhan in future, will still speak and look like Janardhan, but will have the capabilities to feel and conceptualize solutions for complex business problems, and act as a dependable and responsible global team member from his desk at home!