Can’t drive every day: Let’s work from home
NEW DELHI: This January, Delhi experiments with an ambitious road-rationing scheme that will force people out of their cars for some of the time. But instead of worrying about how to get to work, how about letting work come to us?
This could be just the moment for companies to try out a flexible way of work, one that could do wonders for employees and for bottom lines.
The 9-to-5-or-longer, under-one-roof model is a habit left over from an industrial era when men went to work and women stayed home. Now, across many dematerialised, knowledge-based jobs, the daily trek to office is avoidable. Broadband, cloud computing and collaboration tools can cut us loose, lets us work more efficiently, and gladly, from anywhere we choose.
The remote revolution has been here for decades, but it is unevenly distributed. Around the world, there have been three waves of remote work, says Harvard Business Review — "virtual freelancers" being connected to companies, "virtual colleagues" as businesses internalise flexibility, and, now, those who seek out co-workers in urban hubs.
In the US, an estimated 30% of the workforce functions remotely to some extent, and telecommuting grew by 79% between 2005 and 2012. In India, while most new tech companies get this (a third of MakeMyTrip's employees work remotely, for instance), older companies have been slow to move to a work environment that values results rather than going through the motions.
"The workplace really shouldn't mean a physical space anymore," says Hema Ravichandar, former HR head of Infosys and a popular business-life columnist. Flexi-work is a way to retain workers — usually women — who drop out to care for children or ageing parents. It makes intuitive sense to young people, who have grown up untethered, working with their mobile devices. By 2020, India will have the youngest workforce in the world.
In fact, a growing body of research and field-trials establishes that creative workers thrive when they have autonomy. A Stanford experiment at a Chinese travel company by Professor Nicholas Bloom and graduate student James Liang found that it wasn't just morale, productivity also surged among workers who stayed home, possibly because it cut out the commute, the inessentials and interruptions of a day in the office. It saved the company roughly $1,900 per employee in the nine months of the study.
The reason many businesses have embraced flexitime is to "manage escalating hardware costs — space, overheads, workstations, parking lots," says Ravichandar. Many tech and consulting companies have split workweeks and "hot desks" that multiple people can book and use, and HR designations like "VP, people and places" reflect this change, she says. "It takes lots of new effort to build a technology ecosystem, a culture and special processes to make remote working effective and still get the benefits of teamwork," says management consultant Rama Bijapurkar.
Of course, certain kinds of work do require active presence. Some companies, like Google, believe that the best work comes out of the shared space and creative collisions between people, and try to keep employees on their toyland campuses to the extent possible. Some are too distracted at home, or get "cabin fever" from being alone for too long, others need to be corralled into a formal environment to work at all. "One needs to build in some physical interaction, or the social camaraderie is lost," says Ravichander. But the more rationed these meetings are, the more useful and to-the-point they can be.
Companies should think of "remote work as a way of life" rather than an occasional favour to certain employees, says Sairee Chahal, CEO of the organisation Sheroes, which focuses on getting more women hired, and helping companies adapt to faraway workforces. It must have clear policies and successful role models — working from home should not be an under-promoted, dead-end track, or one where benefits are scaled back and responsibilities are round-the-clock.
"Managers need to acquire a new set of skills, in how to work with remote employees and also create a consistent work culture," says Tathagata Basu of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), who helped create a report on the future Indian workplace. While IT, consulting and financial services have chosen flexibility, traditional industries remain reluctant, says Basu. Many worry about losing control of invisible employees.
While the report found that India is behind the global curve on flexible work, one thing is clear, Basu says —"Employees increasingly seek autonomy, whether it's working from home, or in using one's own devices, or in structuring compensation." Only 9% of the young people PwC surveyed wanted to work in a traditional office environment.
So sooner or later, old work arrangements are bound to unravel. If companies want a trial run, the new year is not too soon to start.
Source - As covered in Times of India