Is WFH a sustainable work format?


The Ides of March saw the beginning of a new normal for us, something nobody had signed up for. Employees suddenly found themselves scrambling to figure out how to work from home (WFH), which was an alien, and an almost fancy, concept for the non-IT employees. WFH became an inevitable requirement of the unforeseen pandemic.

While it was thought to be a temporary issue, this soon became the norm with no predictable end date in sight. It eventually dawned on employees that WFH is not the flexible and convenient proposition that most of them thought it would be. Employees grappled for designated office space in their house, ergonomically designed furniture, good network connectivity, etc. They had to deal with all this in the backdrop of incessant negative news on the pandemic, keeping themselves healthy and safe, stocking up essentials, facing the bleak prospect of losing their jobs or being saddled with heavy pay-cuts.

The average Indian family typically operates out of a 2BHK space. In families where both the spouses are working and their 2 children are having online classes, accommodating workspace for all with strong network connectivity is not an easy task. Less than 2 months into the lockdown, employees had started complaining of backaches, sheer exhaustion from the endless zoom meetings, anxiety and stress as meetings sometimes extended way past dinner time. Further, it is no longer possible to leave office stress at the doorstep today. Personal and professional stress are colliding and coalescing and several are struggling to stay focused, motivated and productive. This shift of onus from nisation-led model to a self-driven model of work has brought its own set of challenges.

A handful of companies have declared that they will continue with the WFH format for the employees, either permanently or for an extended period, as they find that productivity has actually surged. According to these companies, due to the saving of travel time, it converts to extra working days per annum. They also provide an economic rationale due to rental savings, travel costs, staff welfare expenses, etc.

However, will this be sustainable in the long run? Are employees extra productive because they are comfortable working from home or due to the fear of being laid-off and the urge to be visible in this faceless working environment? Once the lockdown is completely lifted and the entertainment avenues commence functioning, employees may not spend as much time on work. The current situation may not be the right benchmark to judge productivity.

The face-to-face interaction in a social atmosphere where employees network, collaborate and have water cooler conversations are all part of the corporate work ethos which is difficult to replicate in this cyberspace. Human beings need engagement, interaction and connection with fellow human beings, as it is tough to continue working in isolation for a prolonged time period.

Under normal circumstances, WFH can provide the flexibility where employees can pick up their children from school, avoid commuting long hours, etc. IT can enable WFH but may not succeed incompletely replacing the physical working space.

WFH may be feasible for a shorter duration and considered to be progressive, but it may not be a viable option as a permanent working model. Going forward, companies are more likely to adopt a flexible and hybrid working model as the new mantra.

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