Why work-from-home may not really ‘work’ – Moneycontrol - Freelance Rack

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Why work-from-home may not really ‘work’ – Moneycontrol

Ramesh Nair

It happened last week when during a brainstorming session I noticed that one of the participants did not switch on his video. Since all of us are working from home, during these sessions, we usually prefer to be in a video mode. So, I reached out to this person and asked him the reason. And his response came to me as a big reality check, quite literally!

He told me that he took most of his calls from his car since he stayed with his extended family in a smaller apartment.

This was nothing short of a revelation for me. It is one thing to talk liberally about work-from-home (WFH) as the new paradigm, but quite a different story to be able to do it effortlessly.

Challenges, like the one faced by my colleague, are very common in all major metros, where apartment sizes are small, and it is tough to have a dedicated workspace.

As we continue our fight against COVID-19, globally, almost the entire workforce has shifted to WFH.

In the past few weeks, we have been inundated with many stories about the advantages of WFH which would typically include less commute time, more flexibility, and more freedom to do things at a time more convenient to oneself.

But is it that simple? I tend to disagree. WFH comes with its own disadvantages. To begin with, let us look at a typical family in a metro city like Mumbai. We tend to live in smaller apartments within a joint family system.

Most of the time, the apartments do not have a study room which can be converted into a WFH facility. Besides the internet connectivity in a country of over 1.3 billion with 560 million-plus internet users is far from adequate. Irrespective of the internet carrier, almost all of us struggle with call drops, audio clarity, buffering and the inability to download heavy emails.

And it is just not all about infrastructure (or the lack of it!), it is also to do with the basic human nature of us being a social animal. Research shows that extended work from home can cause feelings of isolation and disconnection. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I will like to emphasize here that we all like to work in teams, we like having that spontaneous interaction with teams, receive a direct feedback from a co-worker, give feedback to teams, work together as a team and so on. One obviously misses out on opportunities for regular social interaction and connection with co-workers when working from home.

Prolonged WFH can make an employee feel isolated leading to depletion of creativity, loneliness and can also impact his or her psychological wellbeing. It also has a significant impact on teamwork, performance and employee productivity.

The feedback and encouragement loop of the work environment is critical for many jobs. While ensuring performance management, accountability and data privacy is critical yet extremely difficult during work from home. It is also a cultural shift for employees as they are used to office infrastructure, equipment, firewalls and high data speed.

And for the ones among us who are married to their work, the inability to unplug post-work hours becomes a real struggle. It is difficult to switch off from work and thus we end up spending a lot more hours in front of our laptops. That critical boundary between work and home can become blurred and lead to increased anxiety or stress caused due to pressure to appear busy.

One feels pressured to be online every hour, make oneself constantly available or otherwise prove you are spending your time in a productive way. The focus shifts too much on tasks and too little on relationships. Also, the anxiety that comes from needing to prove oneself constantly can make work from home very challenging. Things can get very transactional with more emphasis on deadlines and routine information, employees, can, thus, feel being treated like machines rather than an essential part of the team.

Work-From-Home as a short-term option during unforeseen circumstances is beneficial and critical for employee safety. But, the fact of the matter is that it will certainly also impact employee stability and overall productivity of the company in the long-term. I have always felt that the best corporate cultures are the ones that make you feel that you are part of one big family, working towards the achievement of common ambitions.

The author is CEO and Country Head, JLL India

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