Extended lockdowns all over the world have meant that most work places have asked their employees to work from home – mainly the non essential office going populace. Suddenly the commutes that separated offices from home have vanished and have been replaced by home offices and zoom calls. Now, meetings, discussions and even day to day operations are being managed virtually. This new normal has brought forth interesting and important insights.
Firstly, as lockdowns are not ending and the control of pandemic is not yet in sight, work from home (WFH) that had seemed like a happy novelty in the beginning of March is fast becoming tedious by the end of June. Work is literally spilling into living room sofas, beds and even kitchen slabs. Timings are losing meaning and with no physical separation between workplace and home, people are working often longer than their official working hours.
Many without support system at home, or caring for children or elderly have found this transition harder in the absence of school or professional care. Parents of young children, who also comprise a large number of professional office goers, are particularly challenged by managing home schooling and overall parenting, while trying to work from home. This has been especially harder for women who also have to do disproportionate amount of housework.
Although there are many who are finding working from home better. Many had to take long and tiring commutes that are now over. Some love the flexibility and are finding themselves more creative outside the confines of their cubicles and without constant supervision. Many who found it difficult to go out everyday are finding greater comfort in working from home. In fact working from home has proved to many that a large number of meetings are superfluous and a lot can be accomplished through effective online collaboration.
If more companies adapt to effectively working from home with greater flexibility in working hours, then greater opportunities will open up for many including young mothers, people caring for sick or elderly at home and most importantly disabled. This will also open up opportunities for workers in different geographies and across different time zones. Even within same cities workers can live in suburbs or in nearby towns instead of in crowded and expensive metropolis.
However those who are able to work from home, find themselves fortunate in some ways. In some industries and sectors working from home has not worked at all. Where constant brainstorming sessions, field visits and on the ground research is required, working from home has stalled work and productivity. In many sectors like hospitality or personal care, work from home is not an option. Also lockdown has been accompanied by economic slowdown – this too has decreased overall work and rendered many employees redundant. This has led to many losing their jobs. Particularly hard hit are sectors relating to hospitality, travel – especially aviation, personal grooming like salons, theatres and recreation centres, restaurants, and education industry. Many factories and industries are closing down due to low demand and inability to call workers due to lockdown guidelines. Others have not been able to create ways and spaces to ensure work while social distancing. And of course, all these situations apply to formally employed workers, informal labour has found the lockdown devastating on livelihoods.
Working from home could continue for sometime. Even as measures are lifted, slower economic activity may mean that everyone is not physically required in offices. Moreover, as employers are experimenting with virtual meetings and taking most of the work online, they see the benefits in terms of greater flexibility, getting talent from all over the world and lower costs in terms of rents. Cutting down long commutes will also mean greener world.
As WFH becomes the norm, new rules around household will need to be established. Women cannot be facing the whole responsibility of childcare and housework. Men will need to become equal partners. People will have to find ways to separate work from family and leisure time. Lack of social interaction that workspaces afforded will have to be met in other ways. Employers will also have to respect boundaries and time of employees – being available online doesn’t mean being available all the time.
At the end of the day success of working from home will depend on how quickly sectors and employers are able to adapt and adjust. Depending on the area, expertise, and nature of job, some will adapt better than others. Working from home will also be based on personal preferences. While overall many have reported higher productivity, better use of time, greater flexibility and better overall mental well being while working from home, for others it has become tedious, isolating or challenging due to additional responsibilities of childcare and housework. At the present, it is need of the hour, how successfully it is adapted in future, remains to be seen.
The views express are author’s own.