Work from Home - A boon turned curse?
Shashwat Das, Founder, Almond Branding.
At a time when the working world was used to enduring commutes, juggling domestic issues to get to office in the morning balancing their coffee mugs and their briefcase, the phenomenon of flexi-hours made an appearance. While we won’t delve into history and beginnings, some of the aspects are worth noting.
It let office-goers decide their working hours and the place where they chose to do it in. In most cases it was home. This was likely adopted by organisations and professions that did not rely on meet-and-greet or sales calls and the like. Who did not have to report daily to office and have equipment or monitoring as an essential part.
By and by, apart from tech industries, many companies adopted this way of working and it probably gave their employees some respite.
Freelancers, on the other hand, have always worked remotely. Either from home or a place of their choice. Like the neighbourhood coffee shops. “Dude, I work from home” was a badge of honour. It meant one had the freedom and was financially sound. They weren’t slaves to the 9-to-5 rut anymore.
The phenomenon probably helped. It served more to organise thoughts and escape the endless non-productive engagements. Meetings, mostly. Discussions, brainstorms and debates do help but most meetings were and are seen largely as a hindrance to actual work!
Then and now
While the phenomenon still has its place and is productive, it has morphed into something quite undesirable.
Covid has forced most of us to work from home. And depending on one’s vocation, we’re grappling and coming to terms as to what it means.
Under lockdown, people are facing myriad problems. That far outweigh the benefits. One would have intuitively thought one’s home to be a sanctum. A quiet place to be more prolific and productive. Hardly so.
Just take a look at the misgivings, complaints and voices of dissent!
“They (the others in the chain) think my internet is the fastest and is never down”
“I am not beer-on-tap. They expect me to be available 24/7. That’s insane!”
“I have kids, a ton of washing up to do, three meals to cook and no maid”
The litany goes on.
Shouldn’t the rules change?
An office space is designed so one can work. A dedicated area to focus on whatever it is you do. Writers write, coders code, managers manage and so on. There is a reason we don’t let our toddlers and moms-in-law roam around.
But isn’t the home the same? With its own rules? It’s a place where we devote our attention to our loved ones, carry out domestic chores and duties, be there for one another, spend undivided time with them.
Do companies get this? Or are they just ignoring it during Covid? Profits are down, the economy is sliding and it’s very likely they may want to make the most in this situation.
But the inconvenience is something we encouraged, didn’t we?
We carry work home. We answer emails instead of listening to the spouse grouse. We tell our kids not to disturb us. We sleep with our phones on. We’re the ones who don’t draw lines.
There’s something very wrong with this picture.
Covid presents a problem!
Firstly, there are unreasonable expectations.
Answering the email in 10 seconds. At odd hours. Being available for conference calls at the drop of a hat. Expecting information to be gathered from sources that are variously, rural, out-of reach, internet-challenged, without computers, in a bad network coverage area and so on.
Secondly, more frustratingly, calls come in without requests. In the middle of dishwashing, brooming, sanitising packages, groceries, putting kids to bed, lunch, dinner, cooking.
And this from people who are facing the same situations!
Certain industries aren’t functioning. Manufacturing, for example. People have to physically be present in front of machines to create something. Shoots aren’t happening for obvious reasons. People are either pausing those processes or, when it’s not a physical requirement, have figured out a different one.
Companies and people both have to figure things out
It’s easy to announce employees can work from home for the rest of the year. But are companies enabling them to do so? One in particular announced money and computers so they can. Another has offered the option to work from home as schools are closed or online. Children will be at home.
Others don’t care. A time-table of what can be achieved should be tailored. Targets need to be calibrated. And employees have to empowered adequately.
Similarly, if the home has to turn into an office, then several things need to be figured out. A routine has to be put in place. A little space has to be assigned. Tech, stationary, all have to be lined up. A division of duties has to be assigned. Children take up a lot of time. They need constant engagement. That has to be incorporated. It’s not at all easy being productive when many things demand equal attention.
The future of work
We figured out many things before when adversity hit us. From natural disasters to economic upheavals. This pandemic has disrupted our lives on a nuclear level.
The onus lies on both parties. Individuals and companies. Tech can only go so far. We have to make up new rules as we go.
A few things can easily be done.
The very first, especially during these difficult times its conducting business with sensitivity.
A little understanding and leeway goes a long way in making employees feel looked after. They work better with each other, with empathy
New targets. Challenging but achievable under the circumstances. Enabling commutes, computers and food. Crèches, perhaps. Working hours that help accommodate chores at home. A restructuring of a typical day at the office.
While we can easily enforce a little routine, a little more discipline. For the sake of productivity and our own sanity.
It’s a game of optimisation. Realistic goals, segregation of duties, judicious allocation of resources at all levels seem to be the order of the day.
It’s really not the new normal. It’s what we’ve always done.