Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)
Work from Home (WFH) or working from remote area was not much heard a decade ago. It was usually available as a special arrangement to accommodate families in specific cases. However facilities of tele-calling, video conferencing, online communication, text messaging, shared service and collaboration tools have advanced to the point where some businesses thrive with completely remote teams. In fact, it’s not uncommon for businesses to allow their employees to WFH once or twice a week. Many employers believed their workforce would be too easily distracted at home in the absence of any direct supervision. Practically, ample number of companies can offer WFH today in most of the sectors. For some reasons, this trend is still not adopted in India where as US based employees following this practice have more than doubled during the past 15 years.
Today we live in quite amazing times. There is so much technology at our disposal, and running a whole life from the comfort of our homes is easier than ever. As per a study by Samantha Lambert, of Blue Fountain Media, “WFH” two decades back was rarely connected with a full-time career. Now, the internet technology in different cities affords us the ability to face to face connect with anyone anywhere in real time. Many advanced companies have even done away with traditional offices. It also presents opportunities in the face of crisis, such as a natural disaster or an epidemic like COVID19 to protect the public health while continuing with the business.
Despite a few high-profile retreats from remote work policies in recent years, data on the USA workforce suggests that remote work is still increasing. A 2017 Gallup poll reported that 43% of employed Americans had spent at least some time working remotely, and US Census data released in 2018 reported 5.2% of USA workers being based entirely at home. Another Gallup survey of over 15 million employees reveals that those working with best buddies are likely to be over seven times more engaged leading to better customer engagement, qualitative product and improved well-being. Some fear a lack of productivity in their employees, while others lack investment in much needed technology, still, many businesses resorted to WFH policy for one or two days a week for varying number of employees.
The concept of WFH looks easy but is challenging in its implementation. There is a flip side to such arrangements. Ease of WFH than waking up and rushing up out to reach distant office after long travel, can be quite taxing for some. Remote work can help prevent the spread of illness and expenditures on protecting public health. The recent outbreak of COVID19 has prompted many employers to think on switching over to a WFH model in a bid to limit the spread of epidemic. However, one needs to be careful while switching over due to numerous related factors.
Working from home has a lot of other benefits as well. The potential and anxiety of catching any prevailing or potential health ailment and infection further hastens its need. Prevailing positive atmosphere at home helps to reduce stress as people can set the pace without any distraction from other co-workers and complete the assigned work with perfection. This practice is exceptionally useful for taking extra care for children, aged and sick parents, military spouses, veterans, challenged, retirees, and experience more work-life balance. Occurrences of conflicts, employees’ harassment and office distractions reduce automatically.
WFH further provides much needed relief from high expenditure on travel cost, commuting time, travel stress, work space, rental, utilities, parking, worries for leave and other management cost. An employer can source top talent from across globe. It indeed benefits both the employers and the employees in defining success and leadership.
A study of 1004 full time employees which included 505 remote employees by Airtaskar across USA found that selected 505 workers were more productive and they worked for an extra 17 days in a year. Office workers were unproductive for an average 37 minutes a day against 27 minutes by other lot. Inversely, 22 percent of the office workers reported unwanted interference by bosses against 27 percentages of WFH workers.
Implementing a remote work policy or modifying an existing policy, is far easier when dealing in penny pockets locations, rather than making majority resent together. A 2015 study by a Chinese travel agency found that when call-center employees were shifted to WFH, their productivity increased by an average of 13% due to reduction in sick leave, break time and more comfortable work environment.
Everything good comes at a price, and WFH has its downside too. It hinders fostering of organization culture in the absence of togetherness and team building. It also impacts employee retention, engagement, satisfaction, and productivity which further impede customer loyalty and revenues.
Passionate employees and inspiring teams are an outcome of exposure to close competitors doing a similar job. In fact, 100 percent intrinsically remote employees reported higher levels of stress and difficulty finding work-life balance than office based workers. Despite in a digital era, it is impractical to stimulate enthusiasm about any service or product without ample social engagement. High spirits are tough to express digitally. Working sitting alongside colleagues facilitates close interaction, quick solutions, and improved professional behavior, quick grasping and faster communication.
As human beings are social creatures by nature. Working in isolation may be detrimental to mental health and socially connected. Isolated working can hinder trust, connection and common purpose which may further aloofness and problem solving. A different study also reveals that WFH lands oneself into avoidable petty politics, undesirable lobbying and behind the back criticism.
Working from office to WFH, cannot happen overnight. It demands a deliberate plan, preparation, adjustments and support. One needs to understand that work place has changed not the work, targets or time. A change will face resistant. Communicating expectations, situation and expected behaviors to the housemates is must. It is important to maintain consistency in updates and priorities through messaging apps to avoid setting in a feeling of neglect or directionless. Clarity will reduce uncertainty and anxiety and beat set deadlines.
One needs to wake up in time, shower, dress up, eat and sit at arranged place and get started to win over morning sluggishness the way driving or catching a bus would have done. The space so created should have all work related essentials. No one is uniformly productive for 8 hours straight as motivation swings. Outline a plan for the day, and time for difficult tasks. One needs to stick to the breaks away from desk and screen in line with office. A boss many not be distracting you but your performances will be measured.
Assumingly, 90% of employees would like to switch over to WFH either by choice, organizational needs or when forced by nature like epidemic in their careers. If considered, employers allow employees true autonomy and flexibility in use of locations and technical tools, rather than trying to micromanage. Instead of resisting the change, country like India should improve their remote work technological capabilities, administrative policies and create own KPIs. There is a new trend of selective employees living and working from anywhere. These way employers allow employees true autonomy and flexibility in use of locations and technical tools, rather than trying to micromanage. Corporate heads need to change their mind set of decades. Sadly, at present the very basic reliable internet service and uninterrupted power supply is missing everywhere.
One can foresee that remote work software, like mobile work tools and virtual reality conferencing, will soon become the preferred form of communication over face-to-face meetings. AI will also play a major role in managing remote staff. There will be a challenge since a transition is always a daunting task for those who are new unlike those with experience. Resilience, risk taking capacity, foresight, investment on technology and hardworking employees will be crucial for seamless transition.
WFH will undoubtedly be a productive and widely accepted practice. It needs to be put into practice correctly and only when employers, employees and environment are ready. Remote working can increase productivity and happiness index when implemented correctly. A single model may not fit for every employee or business since all jobs cannot be performed at home. It is right time to ponder over for a win-win situation for both.
Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)