It has been a while now that we are living amidst a pandemic-induced lockdown with working from home (WFH) becoming the new normal. A phenomenon long debated and longed for by many employees apparently does not seem to have the same effect on the physical, psychological, and productivity aspects of the employees. But before we investigate the cons of WFH, we must review the current world statistics on it. In US, the statistics showed that 75.4 percent of employees worked on-site and only 16.4percent WFH in the pre-COVID period. However, in between May 10 - May 26, 2020, the percentages stood reversed: about 71.7percent workers worked from home.. Mark Zuckerberg made a statement that by 2030, half of the company’s workforce will not have to go to the office. Google’s WFH policy, initially, ended by 1 June 2020 but it has started to plan for an extension; Google chief, Sundar Pichai said who would be returning back to the office will be doing so with the highest safety strategies. In London, OMD closed all its offices and employees are now doing their work from the safety of their homes. A Chevron official said that the health of their employees is more important than their profit. In India, the picture is no different.
Dr. Sumit Mitra, CEO of Tesco Global Services, ordered 1000 laptops for people working from home, transported office equipment (including furniture) to homes of employees, took permission from the Indian Government to operate an international business from home and quarantined his data service centers. TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) has informed 75percent of its staff strength that the tech major will move to permanent remote working within the next five years. Nasscom is currently reviewing labor laws from a WFH perspective and will be soon sending a report to the government. CP Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra, said that in the first phase, the company may start “with 25percent employees” working from home. HCL has proposed a model where 50percent of its staff will work from home while the rest will be operating from the office and this will be on a rotational basis.
McKinsey India has decided that most of the employees will WFH and implement changes in the working style due to the present situation that is still evolving. The banking sectors are also treading on a similar path; Deutsch Bank as well as City Bank have already declared that it will regain WFO only when it is safe for its employees to do so. E-commerce companies are also following a similar model.
To study the effect of this new Work from Home, McKinsey recently surveyed more than 800 U.S. based employees on their experience while working from home. They found out that working from home has had positive effects on their daily work. They are more engaged and have a stronger sense of well-being and flexibility than they had while working from the office. Research findings evinced the fact that fathers working from home seemed more positive in their attitude than working mothers.
There are, however, some sectors where working from home is not feasible. For example, Alvin Fu, the Managing Director of Reprise Digital, a Shanghai Ad Agency, said that it is not possible to brainstorm for creative work via electronic and digital media tools while working from home. Working remotely is also not possible in the logistic, law, and insurance sectors. The informal sector in India, the backbone of the Indian economy, is heavily labor-intensive and as such is not viable for work from home. Even the sectors where WFH has been applied, there is a mixed reaction from the workforce. Some of them said work from home is materially affecting their daily lives. They do not want this to be a permanent fixture in their lives. The reason they state for this is that there is no proper lunch hour, breaks, and proper transition from “work to no work”. Role stress, overload from balancing work and family issues, lack of perceived organizational support and connectedness, the impact of the physical environment of job and subjective experience of time on work stress: all these can have a serious impact on well-being. Thus, WFH is leading to the commoditization of private space.
Compartmentalizing personal space and ensuring privacy is more difficult when homeworking; you are always “on duty” when homeworking, physically present always but mentally spent. There are issue with respect to lack of factors like recognition at work, absence of people who care and share, evaluation of progress, decreased employee engagement, and in turn, employee performance. Thus, this new(ish) WFH is a different ball game altogether compared to the previous WFH the workforce has experienced. This has been imposed externally, with no specific time allocation and it was a hasty transition and not a gradual planned shift. They are completely disconnected from the workplace and organizational setting.
This brings us to the conclusion where we try to put forward some suggestions that can be followed to curate Work from Home (WFH) according to the need of the employees. The employer should make changes to adjust to the needs of the employees of each sector and not to follow a one-to-fit-all model. The employers should also take into consideration factors like individual purpose, social cohesion, and empathetic relationship while drafting a goal-oriented action. A combination of different tactics should be used to tailor interventions to support employees in a personal and meaningful way in a situation when some groups are thriving and some are struggling to stay afloat. Here are some of the steps that can make the process easier to implement and sustain:
• Support employees throughout and be flexible;
• Show care and trust to employees;
• Set realistic goals;
• Review employees’ performance, always provide them a pat on their back and recognize their diverse needs;
• Pay for the hidden cost;
• Always be a role model and a go to person for employees;
• Enhance factors of work engagement, well-being, and work effectiveness;
• Be compassionate and optimistic;
• Keep them motivated when they adjust to the new normal;
• Engage in dialogue with employees and facilitate the same among them and last but not the least;
• Pay heed to inclusion to create a network of teams and an atmosphere of psychological safety.
“Together we shall overcome this hurdle” should be the mantra to win this war."