Image source: fuseopenscienceblog
There was a tweet that showed up on my timeline that set me thinking about what work from home really meant. The gent sought to know which Indian city had the connectivity, both via the web and in physical form, which was culturally diverse and where one could find space to breathe some outdoor air.
On the face of it, these questions reminded me of the DRS system in cricket where the umpire first checks the no-ball. Why? Because the last named requirement has been absent in all cities for more than a decade now. Even our Garden City of Bangalore has become a concrete jungle and so has Chandigarh to a great extent.
But, that’s not really the point behind this post. The gent who tweeted runs an agency based out of Bangalore and the gist of the tweet hints at a need to move. Nothing wrong with that as this author has been dreaming of a wooden shack in adjacent to the Wayanad forest too. What is potent is the belief that good work can be done from home too.
Readers may recall that Facebook was amongst the first to announce that staff could work from home permanently. And many others followed suit such as Twitter. Several Indian IT companies have been doing so for over two months now and many of the start-ups have already started to prune down their office space considerably as an easy saving.
The question though is would work from home really sort itself out to an extent where barring a small external facing team, the rest of the workforce can actually avoid the commute and in the process reduce operational expenses of the company? Even if we do manage to resolve all the problems that my colleague listed in her article on Why Remote Working Isn’t Working would the future really mean a work-from-home norm?
Well, I don’t think so at this juncture. And the reasons are enumerated right below. The only caveat to the arguments is that they aren’t very Covid-19 centric but more associated with our own behaviour as human beings. So, here goes…
- Rahul Gonzalves, whose tweet catalyzed this post, is a Founder and CEO and he would tell us that remuneration is calculated based on geographic location. Therefore, what I make in Bangalore or Delhi NCR may be adjusted to suit the living standards of Kalpetta (Wayanad) or Kasauli (HP) – assuming of course that all other conditions in the tweet are ignored for the moment. In fact, Facebook had clarified that if staff chose to shift, their salaries too would get adjusted accounting for cost of living, taxes etc.
- It is worth being aware that more than the employees who are facing anxiety and lots of uncertainty over their jobs as salaries are dropping faster than global oil prices, it is the company itself that wants to cut costs. Beyond a point they can’t cut salaries, so their only option is to reduce operational costs, by which I mean office space. In cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Kochi, office rentals are dropping but so is the demand.
- Another aspect that’s peeping forth is the realization that allowing remote working is not a carrot but a stick for the employee. Because she loses all sense of time and space at home and ends up feeling lonelier and more isolated because she misses the daily din and bustle and the ease of operations that an office offers. Those who’ve been part of India’s offshore outsourcing would vouch that communication with stakeholders isn’t as easy as corporate trainers make it out to be.
- A concomitant factor to the above is the obvious mental wellness issues that have been making the rounds ever since India went into lockdown on the midnight of March 24. In this conversation, we had spoken about how the diminishing line between work and home could cause further mental health issues to people, unless they followed some discipline in their daily functioning. Once again, I reiterate that my suggestions appear easy,, but aren’t so for those putting in longer hours at home, suffering stress without even that coffee break or after-lunch stroll that workspaces allow.
- And, finally there is the question of socializing that makes us who we are – humans. Be it the work space or home, there is always time for getting together and having fun. If one were to seek out cheaper cities or towns and assume that life would be easy, that to be farthest from the truth. Agreed, the internet does offer everything that a human being needs on a virtual platform, but not the adrenaline rush that the outdoors offers? This is where work from home offers its biggest challenge.
So, even though employees might initially accept lower salaries as the cost of avoiding public transport, pollution and the stresses of a concrete jungle, a mass exodus into the hinterland or to smaller locations may first require them to adjust their needs-to-wants ratio. Because, even in the smaller towns this ratio has shifted firmly towards wants from needs.