Work From Home (WFH) – A boon or a bane


In March 2020 nobody had a choice. COVID-19 took over the world and changed everything, including the way employers and employees looked at how to continue doing business. There was no room for deliberations or discussions. A simple unilateral decision was forced upon the global corporate world – Work from Home (WFH). In the pre-COVID era, WFH was looked upon as a selective strategy, an alternate way of doing business, and implemented only when needed. It wasn’t a norm and it was surely not the only way of ‘being at work’.

Working from home in the last 3-4 months has been hunky dory for some. But for others it hasn’t been their most pleasant experience so far. While WFH is a ‘new normal’, it can still be said with absolute authority that it is not a universal formula, nor is it a ‘one-hat-fits-all’ scenario. Here are a few parameters that decide whether WFH will actually suit somebody or not:

  • The industry they work for
  • Their work profile
  • Number of years in the corporate world
  • Their age
  • Gender
  • Their monthly household income
  • Nature of the household – nuclear or joint

While these are still very blatant and easy to understand, let’s look at some more arguments – some for and some against WFH.

FOR – Remote working can result in more productivity – Remote workers feel less stressed or less watched and hence able to work better. When people work from home they are away from office distractions, such as noise and interruption from colleagues. This helps them to focus more and get their work done more efficiently.

AGAINST – Remote working can lead to loneliness – Human beings thrive on various kinds of social interactions including the one at work. The interconnection and interdependence in a physical office makes a lot of people happy and efficient. Being alone and connecting with co-workers just over a call can affect mental health and eventually productivity.

FOR – WFH can help save time and money in commute – When we talk to people working in populated metros we do understand the hassles of daily commute to work. Commuting the way an average office-goer does in a metropolitan city can over time result in stress and ill health. There is also that daily dent in terms of time and money. Add to that those seasonal difficulties, like the monsoons in Mumbai. WFH allows for a lot of productive time that can go towards enhanced professional objectives.

AGAINST – There can be challenges related to communication and collaboration – Effective communication, team building and bonding can be hard to achieve when co-workers and colleagues work from their respective homes. The entire concept of spontaneity is lost and every action becomes deliberate and thought through. Being able to solve a problem by huddling in a meeting room seems impossible. Being able to celebrate a colleague’s promotion or a birthday becomes a thing of the past. Building a good network of colleagues and friends seems that much more remote.

FOR – Employees can have schedule flexibility – WFH home helps people in nuclear as well as joint families to plan for activities that contribute towards the household. Using the lunchtime to make a quick grocery run or being able to attend to an old parent becomes that much more a possibility. Remote working provides this flexibility without a question being raised on the nature of work to be done.

AGAINST – Building a company culture can be challenging – Employees ingrain a company’s culture and values by being there, physically. Osmosis plays an extremely important role in achieving this. In case of remote working, management trainees and newer employees lose the advantage of learning from seniors in the organization. Inductions and immersions become that much more a set of modules rather than naturally being aided through day-to-day interactions.

FOR – Allows for more ‘Me’ time – When employees save time on commute, they find the time to opt for other things in life, such as a hobby, a sport, gym time or just listening to music. This aids happiness and contentment in their personal lives making them happy as people and productive as employees.

AGAINST – WFH can be costly too – While employees may initially save money on commuting, clothes and laundry, over time there are areas where expenses will add up. Electricity, data plans, a work-station that is reasonably equipped, an-office-like chair. One can also anticipate expenses like a printer, cartridges and paper and eventually in the work-from-anywhere scenario endless coffee shop bills.

Without a vaccine in site, we are not wrong in saying that the world is somewhere in the middle of this pandemic’s life cycle. And already companies like TCS, Infosys, Wipro and IBM have made strategic decisions on how they are seeing the future. IBM is giving up 50% of office space in India. Infosys has said that 33% of its employees will work from home perpetually. Wipro talks about 90% of its global workforce working remotely, forever. TCS as part of their Vision 2025 claims that 75% of their employees will never come to office.

Now, neither is this list of organizations exhaustive, nor has the debate on the pros and cons of WFH ended. But based on the contextual relevance that we have established here, it will be fair to conclude that WFH in the post vaccination (herd immunity) era may not continue in the form it operates today. Organizations will look at getting some of the ‘old normal’ back as the comparative benefits may have been well established by then. Also, this long-lasting experiment will give the corporate world a few lessons, lessons that come only out of experience. Apart from just WFH, we may see 24×7 offices with staggered timings and shifts, operating with an optimal mix in the not-so-far future. Or maybe we will settle for Work from Anywhere – coffee-shops, homes, business centres or offices. Let’s wait for this one to play out. A much needed balance may emerge with a win-win for employers and employees alike. Let’s wait and watch.

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