Offices, Homes and Leisure Spaces…

The C-19 juggernaut is rolling on relentlessly, mutating even more powerfully as vaccines work to build resistance to hamper and neutralize its course. Globally, countries are struggling to cope, by being forced into multiple lockdowns to protect their citizens, causing massive disruptions to work life as we know it – attending offices nestled in brick-and-mortar constructions became impossible. Yet, the rapidity with which the world responded – America saw work from home (WFH) employees growing from under 7% of its workforce to over 45% in mid-2020 – has been amazing. India’s IT industry in particular, and various state governments have also cited the value of WFH together with a permanent hybrid model where people would work partly from office and home (WFO&H) even after the end of the pandemic. Offering huge comparative advantage, both WFH and WFO&H drive inclusive growth, better participation from all parts of the country and enable greater number of women who would have flexibility to work from home.

Being at home working is not a new thing. Scientific inventions and books that revolutionized the world did not emerge from factories; it sprang from the home toils of great minds and geniuses. Fast forward to present times, digital technology empowered the transition to dynamic working, or staying connected and working on the move, multiplying benefits and growth. Employees appreciate its flexibility – a study found 88% Indian employees prefer work from home – and companies are able to observe rise in productivity. The acceptance of remote work by several companies globally is one of the blessings of an otherwise incredibly hard time. The model, adapted in stress and swiftness, has in fact worked out so well that, according to the finding of World Economic Forum, post-pandemic too employers are ready to give ‘work from anywhere’ (WFA) options to at least 44% of employees.

‘Work from anywhere’ now applies across industries, from tech to banking, finance, and even industrial companies handling manufacturing or supply chain management. Corporations leading the change will be pioneers – they will be magnets for talent because remote work enables a company to attract the best minds, oriented to growth and trended towards the future of work.

Such dynamic working is the next logical step in a globalized world, its flexibility easing international collaborations and expanding global talent pools. The greatest benefit for the employee is the control it provides over time, a temporal flexibility arising out of the elimination of the daily stressful commute and rigid work hours in offices as compared to WFH / WFA-enabled flexible work timings based out of convenient residential or resort spaces located away from the din and clutter of urban sprawls. For women, WFA provides added fillip to managing their careers and home lives. For a company, remote working facilitates global hiring of talent without the need to open subsidiaries in different geographies. For managers, the new system necessitates behavioural changes. Subordinates may have to be measured not by the duration of hours worked, but by the quantum of work and quality of output. Also, with remote work people may be in different time zones and, therefore, a lot of work will have to be done asynchronously, on accessible platforms like Slack channels or shared Google docs. Remote work is also an equalizer, contoured not by our location but by internet quality. Most remarkably, work from anywhere has the power to reshape old understandings of work, employees and companies now connecting in meetings of the mind and fusions of creativity, rather than the previous approach of physical attendance, hierarchical communication and regimented hours spent within office buildings. Additionally, WFA is blurring the line between work and leisure by setting the trend captured by the portmanteau term ‘workation’, the novel concept of working vacation, combining clearly planned business with curated recreational activities.

The flip side of WFH or WFA is the unhealthy overlap of home and office or work and leisure, resulting in a lack of respite from work pressures and consequent negative impact on health and wellness. Possibly there are other potential drawbacks too. It highlights the plight of those who do not have much flexibility, including frontline professionals and many in manufacturing and service industries. It accentuates the double shift women face, managing both official and domestic responsibilities. Such drawbacks could entrench inequalities. Instances like promotion biases against remote work, can, perhaps, be successfully navigated by managers drawing from increasing awareness and sensitivity. Technology will aid this journey, with futuristic innovations like hologram glasses, adding data to all that one sees, enhancing one’s view of the world with digitally created content and thereby improving the quality of work. Even the loneliness associated with working remotely may be addressed by augmented reality, bringing people virtually together. 

 Till previously, there was, apart from the physical, an invisible distance for everyone between office and home which enabled most people to mentally offload work pressure en route. Such an option is unavailable now and, hence, life is transforming into an added rat race from one stress to another. What is probably required to tackle the challenge is to instill greater systematization and discipline infusing consistently high energy levels into one’s day-to-day routine. At a glance, WFH and WFA are seen to facilitate higher productivity, lower establishment costs, near elimination of daily commute, substantially reduced fuel consumption and resultant traffic / pollution levels. Overall, a healthier lifestyle and salutary effects on environment. In spite of all such positives, it is doubtful whether the new high in productivity is sustainable over the long run.  After extended time at homes, the compelling urge is towards social mobility and togetherness instead of further prolonging an enforced squeeze from expansive gregariousness to constricted creatures milling around computer screens; the primitive man evolved from hunter gatherers living in caves, moving on to agricultural farms and thence to factories and offices. The pandemic appears to have reversed history by pushing humans back to caves, as peering into digital screens is akin to drudging inside virtual caverns.

10 thoughts on “Offices, Homes and Leisure Spaces…

  1. A timely post, Raj. WFH has become pretty much the norm over the last year. This pandemic has brought about it so suddenly and interestingly enough, the world adapted to it. I do wonder what this says about the world in general: perhaps we’ve been stuck in the monotonous office grind for so long we’ve never considered other ways of life, or perhaps we’ve always wanted flexibility around our work but the world is against us.

    I have to agree with you working at home is not a new thing. Many people have always done that but I think the idea around it has evolved. I think these days there is stigma about working from home. For so long I have encountered so many people who are against working from home. I was also one of them…and the last year I have realised personally I find a lot more productivity working from home.

    I really like the analogy at the end where we are similar to a time long time ago – peering into screens as we are making sense about the world. In Australia there is a big push to go back to the office and it will be interesting to see how this plays out – and if WFH will be the way of the future here.

    Lovely to see you again, Raj. Hope you are doing well. Take care.

    • Thanks Mabel. I like to think that a hybrid model combining efficiencies of both options makes for the ideal way forward. There are any number of occupations for which remote working is not an option. We have to wait and see how things are going to pan out. You be well and take care.

      • You are right. There are occupations where remote working is not possible at all. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead in the future in terms of being at the office vs work-life balance. Stay safe, Raj.

  2. Our brave new world is offering new opportunities and new challenges isn’t it? It’s nice for people to have more time for family, exercise, leisure… But feeling always on the job could be a challenge. A blessing for some, or a taste of hell for others. I suppose as everyone tries to see what will work we can share with each other.

    • Absolutely. New challenges and opportunities are certainly showing up, along with the feel of nearly continuous work pressure. Liking whatever one is into is sure to gain added significance.

  3. Well done and right on time, Raj. The world is changing and Covid has been a tremendous catalyst. If we are collectively moving, albeit ever so slowly, toward liberation, I can’t think of a better way than getting people out of high-rises and packed commuter trains. If viruses are intelligent, it seems this one knew it was past time for the changes it initiated. More inward time. Less mindless running around. And yes, perhaps more productivity and certainly more flexibility working from home. And perhaps that will precipitate taking better care of oneself health. Back to basics. 🙏

    • Lesser commute and more inward time are clear indications, Bela, at least for the white, gold and yellow collar categories. That leaves, inter alia, the blue, brown, green, pink and grey collars. These occupational categories would specially need the vaccines and the immunity that is attainable with it. Let us all hope for better times ahead.

  4. The interesting impact of COVID-19, as a teacher, teaching digitally isn’t easy especially when the technology decides not to play along, and for students who live in the country and remote areas, technology is intermitant. One day, schools will be all online, I just hope technology improves!

    • Thanks Luc. Unfailing connectivity is a real issue at the moment, at least in rural areas. But it is a deficiency that is surely going to be sorted out without much delay. School teachers are overcoming such technical glitches by also interacting with students on phones to make up for the gaps in on line connectivity. Virtual classes are part of the new normal and a full-fledged return to the old ways appears to be unlikely at least for time being.

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