September 18, 2020 7:10:37 pm
The days blurred into weeks, then months. Now, almost six months later, the pandemic still rages, and the work from home arrangement that started as a temporary fix is set to continue in many companies, to the delight of some and dismay of others.
The old normal has given way to the new and WFH, an acronym that was born in the lockdown and quickly became part of everyday lexicon, is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
As millions of professionals strive for the optimum work-life balance in extraordinary times when they have been confined to their homes, industry giants as well as start-ups have told their employees to continue to be there.
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It works for some and not for others, longing to get back to life as it was.
Finance analyst Rishabh Maheshwari is saving on four hours of commute from his home in Gurgaon to his office in Noida. He has been using the extra hours to work out, and also prepare for a certification exam later in the year.
“I am getting more things done in a day, thanks to work from home. It has allowed me to be flexible with my time. My productivity at work too has increased. I would like if the choice to work from home is flexible even after the pandemic,” Maheshwari said.
For Anshika Mehta, however, the charm has worn off. She is tired of working in isolation with no demarcation between weekdays and weekends and no workplace interaction. Add to this the stress of the uncertain COVID-19 situation and no clear end in sight, and she seems quite done.
“The initial lockdown phase allowed me to explore my culinary skills and keep in touch with my creative side. But it has been six months. All days are the same. I am really looking forward to joining back and being able to say, ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ at the end of a work week,” the 32-year-old Gurgaon-based corporate communications professional said.
That the precautionary measure — India’s lockdown started on March 25 — would continue for six months and counting was unfathomable. For companies and their employees.
As India’s COVID-19 tally surges — it crossed 52 lakh with 96,424 people testing positive in a day, according to the Union Health Ministry on Friday — companies big and small are also calculating the pros and cons and tweaking their work rules.
The trigger for the WFH introduction might have been the risk of contracting the infection, but one major reason for its prolonged continuation is companies saving on real estate costs.
Food aggregator Zomato, which has reportedly shut 125 of over 150 offices worldwide during the lockdown, said real estate has been one of its “highest recurring expenses”.
After testing the sustainability of work for home for nearly two months, the company said it has decided to make “partial or full work from home a permanent feature for certain roles/teams”.
“We felt the biggest advantages were flexibility of work hours and saving the workforces’ travelling time, while the biggest challenge was ensuring every ‘zoman’ working remotely continued to feel connected and well supported,” Daminee Sawhney, VP-HR, Zomato, told PTI.
Also looking at WFH as a permanent solution is Cars24, a platform for buying and selling used cars that currently has 60 per cent of its staff working from home.
The company said it felt confident about the decision, particularly after “the tremendous hike in the Happiness Index” as well as the productivity matrix of its employees during the lockdown.
“Our employees have been happier working from home because they get to spend more time with families. There has been ‘a growth in discipline’ among the employees. For instance, meetings start on time. We also believe that WFH brings in a factor of convenience since location is no more a boundary while we look at talent,” said Sonam Lama, general manager HR, CARS24.
In the last couple of months, several other companies have joined the ‘continued WFH’ bandwagon.
While search engine giant Google has said its employees will continue to work from home till June 30, 2021, social media behemoths Twitter and Facebook declared that remote working could continue ‘forever’.
“If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen,” a May 12 blogpost by Twitter read.
For those who cannot sustain work from home, offices will ‘be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions”, the company said.
Home grown multinational IT company Tata Consultancy Services is also looking at an office model in which only one-fourth of its employee force will be required to come to office by 2025, according to the TCS Annual Report 2019-20.
For many, the ‘semi permanent’ shift to work from home means the limbo continues and also that they need to make sure infrastructure at home is as efficient as that in the office.
The upgrade is not always easy.
Anish Choudhary, a public relations professional who got stuck in his hometown in Talcher, Odisha, after the lockdown was announced said he has been working 12-14 hours a day.
“The working hours have increased significantly. I am now spending somewhere around 12-14 hours in front of the screen managing team meeting calls, sudden client changes and abrupt timelines,” he said.
“Since I am in a very small town in Odisha, the lack of infrastructure is creating a lot of issues. Non-availability of high-speed internet and 24X7 electricity is a big hindrance,” Choudhary, whose PR firm is based out of Delhi, added.
For companies, the challenge is keeping employees connected with each other despite the distance.
Working remotely has conspicuously reduced informal interactions between colleagues, almost eliminating the workplace social culture.
We believe that working together in a commonplace helps in learning, nurturing individuals and teams, creating a value-based culture. So, we look forward to things settling down soon,” said Anand Ayyadurai, CEO, VOGO (a scooter/bike rental platform).
“People joining in don’t get enough of the team bonding exercise that used to happen involuntarily earlier,” Lama added.
Poornima Singh, an HR professional at a Noida-based multinational, said a lot of her colleagues have been availing the ‘work from office’ option too.
“We have extended work from home till April next year, but have given an option to our employees to work from office on some specific and predefined days in a week, and a lot of people are increasingly opting to work from office.
“Many employees feel there are less distractions and therefore they work better in the office. They feel their productivity will increase as they move away from their regular boredom and usual schedule at their homes,” she said.
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