With work from home becoming a norm in the times of COVID-19, experts have actively begun probing the applicability of concepts such as remote work. The Indian Express speaks to Clinical Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Strategic Human Capital at ISB Mohali, Chandrasekhar Sripada, who is currently heading a research project on “Institutionalising Remote Work” on the future of remote work in India.
The pandemic has compelled every one to shift to ‘work from home’ and many companies are now thinking of continuing with it- what’s your view on it? Is remote work different from work from home?
Work from home is a new ingenuity which has been handled well by IT companies and other firms, but I will point out that we should not rush into accepting this mode of work as the new normal. There are mixed reactions to this transition. Though it has been easier for people with big homes and small families, it had been a challenge for others to manage this while balancing domestic life with work, and without access to the infrastructure which allows remote work.
Currently, we are seeing a rather grudging accommodation to this mode of working by employers and employees. Employers are seeing this as a cost cutting opportunity and employees enjoy the flexibility, but they also miss the social space of working from an office and complain of being over-worked. This is because there has been no thoughtful reaction to what this transition could mean, it is just a knee-jerk reaction to compulsion and that is why it is different from remote work, which is a much more wholesome concept than ‘work from home’. Remote work has existed as a concept in advanced and western countries, where people have been working from remote locations successfully over the past few decades. Remote work means working from anywhere and not necessarily work from home. Work from home is seen as contrasting to working in an office, but remote work is a viable and legitimate alternative to traditional work setups. The assumption in remote work is that work can be done from any location.
What are the benefits of transitioning to remote work?
It depends on whose benefits are we looking at. I would like to open the discussion to the complete economy of India, rife with inequalities and see how remote work can become an equally viable alternative mode of work to working in an office. Firstly, it can promote inclusive employment. A number of small town and rural employable youth are not able to find jobs in a big city, or cannot bear the costs of relocating to big cities or are made to feel like an outsider or second class citizen in these big cities.
With remote work as an option, a woman from a second tier city can work from home while managing her household. So this involves migrating work to where the labour is, instead of migrating labour to where work is. The second benefit is the urban decongestion, since lesser people will be forced to live in the concrete jungles of the big cities. This will also facilitate development in the small towns and cities- as when well paid people will work from remote locations, they will also spend money in the local economy. For example, If an IT worker stays in his city in Bihar, even the migrant labourer would stay in this local area and find construction work instead of going to Gurgaon and building apartment complexes there. So, the third benefit will be the development of economies in rural locations and small towns. On the micro level, within the organisation, promoting work from remote location will help employers cut cost, and research has shown that the remote work also promotes productivity and happiness levels in the employees. It allows a sense of autonomy to them, which is different from the feudalistic structure present in traditional offices, where the idea of ‘presenteism’ is practiced. By presenteism, I refer to how just being present in the office and answering to the beck and call of your boss is seen as an indicator of your value as an employee, rather than the work you do. Remote work can potentially rid employees of this compulsion to be ‘present’, participate in unnecessary meetings or pleasing the boss.
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