Despite initial productivity gains, we could be overrating the benefits of ‘work from home’.
“This April I am busy for a different reason,” quipped my HR friend. “Normally, this time of the year, I am busy pacifying angry employees about their hikes. But now we are busy training managers on how to work remotely and engaging employees to keep their morale high. I think after many years we are doing something new and it is exciting”.
He is not alone. An elated CXO who heads an engineering R&D told me her team's productivity is at an unprecedented 70 percent, something not seen when everybody was present at the office. An entrepreneur told me his collections were the highest in the last four weeks as his customers were all locked down at home and available to clear his payments.
The first month of full-time work from home (WFH) for most white-collar workers has been a godsend. People have been posting happy pictures of eating with family, time with pets, reading books, and bonding with near and dear ones. I am getting diabetic about some of these new claims, which are making our working from the office of the past look like a war crime.
Not too long ago, the same employees were seen showing off the inaugurations of their new swanky offices and how they loved their cool cafeterias and gyms.
Will remote working be the new future for many roles and industries? TCS just announced that they would only need 25% of their future workforce at their offices. This must be worrying about office rental companies.
If 75 % of us worked away from the office at any given point, Maslow may have to go back to the drawing board to rework parts of his pyramid! Physical co-working and collaboration has, for long, been the only known pathway for us to climb up the hierarchy of needs. With physiological and safety needs partly sorted in a WFH mode, the remaining layers above seem a bit shaken and challenged as we talk.
Can video platforms and chat rooms replace the physical sense of connection and belonging that one draws from a workplace? In a WFH mode, where the dynamics of a physical workplace don’t play out enough, leadership may also need to be re-defined. Physical stature, charisma, and intellect have so far been experienced the best physically.
Self-actualization remains to be reconfigured and learnt afresh if we sign up for an employee-lite arrangement. For many who rely on meetings, handshakes, and walk-around catch-ups, the world has rebooted itself, requiring grappling with the unfamiliar.
Calm Before the Storm?
Let’s not forget we have scrambled for safety and security in the last four weeks. Many of us who hated our workplace for various reasons like travel, traffic, peers, bosses, found WFH a great escape and our energies flowed into work. We all wanted stability and continuity to our work with all the fear about the coronavirus around us.
Let’s not forget the threats of jobs, salary cuts were looming, and many of us must have worked hard to keep our jobs. It’s very similar to how we are on our best behavior when we begin in our new jobs, trying to impress bosses and colleagues. Once the threat to our health, salaries, and jobs disappears, it will be interesting to see whether productivity levels remain the same. The other gain is with regard to workplace conflicts. Many of us haven’t had the time and opportunity to experience the friction with our pet hates at work as we were busy protecting our physical safety. Maybe it will take time to pick new enemies in a remote working model.
Not So Soon Please
Is it too early for us to declare if WFH works? For every Aye, there’s a Nay! Current productivity figures are encouraging, but one needs to take it with more than a pinch of salt. With all due respect, the productivity we experience now is largely a result of immobility and absence of social engagements and distractions. Can I say it’s akin to the practice of celebrities authoring books behind bars!
Physical environmental aspects are a huge but often unrecognised factor of our productivity. The absence of traffic movement and noise around is an enabler for focus as it stands now. We should wait to see if the mind operates the same way once the movement, noise, resume, and the din begins in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t we then rather rush back to the sound-proofed and air-conditioned comforts of the office space?
Personally, I got a glimpse as to what retirement looks through my newly declared state of work. Meanwhile, I saw one of my colleagues applying for leave yesterday citing personal work. My sarcastic self wanted to ask him why take leave? However, my respect for him went up! Should I say, I am observing new meanings of remote working for sure!
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