It’s been a year since Trisha Pandey (name changed) last went to her workplace and she misses the banter with colleagues, the coffee breaks and working in a team. What was once a monthly allowance that she availed to “work from home” for a day or two has now become her normal life. “And I am hating it,” says the 27-year-old. In early March last year, the Delhi-based production company she works with moved their operations online, with the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Since then Pandey has been cooped up at home, trying to make peace with the changed circumstances.
“I feel very disconnected from my organisation. There’s no clarity about work and where we are headed. In-office, you feel like you’re a part of a larger thing. Now, I feel directionless. I want to meet my colleagues to find out if all is well or that we won’t be laid off,” she says.
Bengaluru-based Akanksha Maglani, 30, who works in museum design, agrees. “It was super tough, especially in the beginning. I was sitting in front of my laptop from morning till late at night, which led to severe back pain. I felt like I was losing control over my body. There was no boundary between my personal and professional lives any more,” she says.
BCG’s Workplace of the Future survey, released in June 2020, mentions that most organisations believe their future workforce will be more remote than ever before. It also added that 37 per cent of companies expect that more than 25 per cent of employees will work in hybrid models that combine remote and onsite work. “The pandemic escalated the inevitable and we all saw the office die a premature death. It has been a challenging year, but I’ve learnt how flexible and constructive working from home can be in the long run. The trick is to find a work-life balance, if only for the sake of one’s mental health,” says Chirag Thakkar, 29, commissioning editor, Roli Books, Delhi.
In what was unimaginable even a year ago, while workplaces have shrunk, the pandemic has expanded the scope of remote access. “My work is related to museums, so one could visit museums in the US and Europe virtually; a lot of material was readily available, thanks to webinars. In fact, halfway through it I felt the need to balance my time online because webinar fatigue had set in,” says Maglani.
But for many whose work involved social interactions, the lockdown came as a shock.
Chhavi Sahal, 25, a Delhi-based yoga instructor, recalls losing all her clients in the lockdown. “I had to start from scratch. Initially, people were sceptical of joining online classes. But slowly, I started getting a hang of it. I created social-media content and found new students from different parts of India,” she says.
For Delhi-based sports public-relations specialist Zoya Khan, life revolved around events and tournaments in stadiums across the country. When work moved home, she missed the adrenaline rush that came with attending matches and press conferences. “My work thrives on social interactions. Suddenly, every tournament was getting cancelled and my work moved to a corner of my room. I have no control over my time. If clients schedule online meetings and events beyond office hours, we can’t skip them. No one cares about your plans with the family,” says Khan.
For some like Ritika Pant, who teaches media studies at a Delhi University college, work from home came like an unexpected boon. “Since I’d joined a new workplace soon after my daughter was born, I did not get maternity leave. I never really got to spend quality time with her. When the lockdown happened, I could manage work and still be around my toddler. Of course, there are rough patches when I am in the middle of a lecture and she’s crying in the background or just appears on screen babbling, but I have still cherished this year because I wouldn’t have ever got a chance to work like this,” she says.
There is still the question of online fatigue and setting up boundaries. “If both my husband I am working, my daughter won’t go to her father because she knows that he is busy but she will come to me,” she says. There’s a disparity in pay, too. While her husband’s company gave him an allowance to set up a home workspace, her college deducted the travel allowance that was part of her salary. “When teachers protested, the administration decided to make us come over occasionally so we would be eligible for it,” she says.
If there’s one thing that everyone agrees upon though, it is the fact that no one misses their commute to the workplace. “There’s no denying the connections one forges with authors and colleagues over meetings and interactions. But, the time and energy one saves from not having to commute has only made me value working from home as a lifestyle choice. We are all literal manifestations of the popular meme that the meeting could have been a short email,” says Thakkar.