Is work from home the new normal?, Opinions & Blogs News – WION - Freelance Rack

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Is work from home the new normal?, Opinions & Blogs News – WION

Up to the 17th century, most of the “knowledge/office work” used to happen at home. However, professionals in time realised that they needed a dedicated space to work. Response to a crisis generally changes the ways the world operates. After World War II, Germany was once again looking for ways to rebuild itself. With the advancements in telecommunication, offices could be segregated from factories and warehouses. It was the German concept of Bürolandschaft that has been further tweaked into today’s “office landscape”.  

Today the 9-5 office forms a major part of the workforce in the ‘big cities.’ The formal sector economy is hugely concentrated in these major metropolitan cities which in-turn become over crowed areas of the skilled workforce. As per the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), India’s biggest cities may be losing up to $22 billion annually to traffic congestion. The commuters are largely bearing the burden. On average the travellers in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata spend 1.5 hours more on their daily commutes compared to their counterparts in other Asian cities mitigating traffic during peak hours. Overcrowding of these metro cities also means logistic concerns for the state authorise. 

The pandemic, however, forced the authorities to push people to maintain hygiene. One way to arrange it is by providing flexible work condition including work from home, wherever possible.  

Coronavirus pandemic has once again propelled the world to change its way of operation. The public health emergency under which globe is reeling had locked downed over 3 billion people by mid-March, 2020. The business has plummeted to its worst crisis since the 2008-09 Lehman debacle. Industries like tourism, fashion and sports have been brought to a complete standstill as ‘contact’ is quintessential for these industries. Amidst the ‘lockdown’, the economy still needs to churn. It is a clarion call that ‘social distancing’ must be accepted as a behavioural change and offices must be encouraged to operate with minimal physical contact. Therefore, one thing that has become concomitant is ‘Work from Home” and it is here to stay. 

The Gurugram administration has recently asked its IT companies to allow ‘Work from Home’ facility for their employees till July 2020. Similar steps should be emulated for all companies where human contact can be voluntary, even after the lockdown is over. More industries and sectors must be identified where ‘Work from Home’ is feasible. Obviously the WFH model is not feasible in every industry like manufacturing, hospitality, performing arts, entertainment etc. But many sectors can be identified in which daily physical contact may not be obligatory. For instance, at one point physical presence was considered essential for the function of courts; but with the help of technology, the legal system is also coping with the situation. A similar approach must be identified in other sectors too.  

The government sector in India had never, previously, accepted the idea of work from home. But necessity is the mother of innovation and during the lockdown period, many employees have been allowed to continue work from home. Leading PSUs have adopted and even found value in the WFH model. 

Even with all its benefits, the WFH model has its own problems, such as improper infrastructure at home. The firewalls required for electronic communication are not as adept at home as at office and necessary precautions have not been taken to protect against data piracy. However, these are temporary micro issues pertaining to generally people involved in the IT sector. If eventually, work from home does become a viable long-term alternative, care would be taken to enhance infrastructure and ensure that data is protected. 

Few silver linings have come to light as people worked from home during the ‘lockdown’. Globally, pollution levels have diminished to their lowest in years. Major cities like Beijing, Mumbai, Delhi, etc., have had clear skies and the traffic has been impeccably smooth. The cities had been previously at a breaking point due to over-crowding and pollution but have shown signs of ecological improvement.  

This has in turn helped with the quality of life for employees who used to be stranded in traffic for hours damaging the environment as well as causing personal damage to health. It is high time that people find innovative solutions in order to live in harmony along with the ecology. 

Concept of Work from Home is also beneficial for employers who can save on real estate with smaller workspaces. Small town industries can pick up when there is a scope of talent joining from anywhere. It shall also curtail over-crowding of the metropolitans if the skilled worker does not have to migrate from their own towns looking for ‘suitable’ job opportunities.  

The idea is also in the interest of women who are traditionally in a quandary to maintain a work-life balance. Work from anywhere can attract more women to continue with jobs even after facing difficult life choices like returning to work post-maternity.

Businesses should stop treating ‘work from home’ as an aberration. Tata Consultancy Services with a workforce of 4.5 lakh has announced to adapt the ‘Secure Borderless Model’ where 75 per cent of its employees will be working from home in the longer run. New age dynamics allot marks for working and not for mere physical presence. To boost productivity, one has to ascertain that the workforce is not ‘exhausted’ all the time. Many a time, an employee has to mark his absence from important deliberations because they cannot ‘reach on time’. However if the need to reach on time physically is out of the picture, then everyone may be available on video-call (though at different places).  

Work from Home may not supplant, but surely can supplement the traditional way of working. For people fretting at the thought of finding no ‘connection’ or camaraderie in the workplace, many things can be put in place. For instance, there is a concept of ‘virtual water-cooler’ scheduled as ‘cloud-meetings’ of mix groups in offices which promote employees to mingle and have informal conversations and bond over non-work discussions.  

As is said, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Dealing with a pandemic is tough, but the good lessons can always be adapted. 

(The article is co-authored by Tanvi Saran Srivastava. She is Law Officer in MSTC Ltd, CPSU.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

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