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The SHEROES Contributor

Teja Lele

Teja Lele an architect by profession is also an editing and writing professional. She worked as adeputy managing editor with Mindworks Global Media Services for more than 3 years. An award-winning Journalist Teja was also an Assistant Editor with The Indian Express.

 


There’s just no getting around it. Big-ticket firms such as Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard may have presently shut the door on remote working, but the virtualisation of life clearly indicates that the workplace of the future is a flexible one.

Recent studies from Stanford University and University of Minnesota have shown that telecommuters are 13 percent more productive than office-bound workers. And that firms who actively hire and retain remote workers have lower operating costs, increased productivity, and better employee retention. So while Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard were ending remote options, many firms across the world were, in 2013, looking for ways to make work-from-homers part of their workforce.

The surveys and stats are many. The latest survey by Regus, the global workplace provider, reveals that flexible working is often the make-or-break of job offers. The survey, giving voice to the opinions of more than 20,000 senior executives and business owners across 95 countries, shows that about 73 per cent would choose one job over another similar one, if it offered flexible working.

It’s been proven down recent years that a flexible workplace improves work-life balance, boosts motivation and ensures engagement. Flexible options also work well to avoid employee churn and retain talent – an age-old priority of companies.

My Flexibility Leanings

I don’t remember being flex-friendly when I set out on my career path, after completing an intense five-year course in architecture. I soon decided to switch to journalism, which had always interested me, and when I started work as a full-timer, my work and personal life was as regular as a journalist’s working the graveyard shift can get. Odd hours, sudden deadlines, cancelled offs – these were all part of daily life. I worked with a variety of newspapers, including The Asian Age and The Indian Express, slowly but steadily rising up the copy desk ranks.

In the pre-2000 era, remote working was – well – a remote concept at best. One had to clock in certain hours at work, sign attendance registers and punch in papers to prove that work was happening. Face time was as important as were by-lines. But change was in the air. Small changes were afoot, especially in the big cities!

A shift to New Delhi in 2006 led me to Mindworks, an editorial outsourcing start-up, where we worked with foreign publications at their time and pace routinely. I soon moved to a Miami-based project, managing a team of 10 copy editors and designers, and liaising with an editorial team in Miami. The work involved managing gruelling deadlines and real-time anything-can-go-wrong situations.

Mindworks, by then, was doing things differently – allowing talent the freedom to work from home rather than lose them and thinking out-of-the-box to resolve employee issues. When I decided to relocate to Mumbai in 2009 after marriage, the firm came up with a three-city arrangement that we worked rather well for more than a year and half – me in Mumbai, my team in Delhi and the client in Miami.

Clearly, employers in India too are keen to make “flexi-working” a reality so as to allow employees to manage professional and personal commitments. And while remote options are presently seen primarily as the preserve of women – be it because of social conditioning or necessities – perhaps the day is not far when they will also be routinely offered to men.

I finally quit the formal flexi-work arrangement because I no longer wanted to work the graveyard shift, but I continue to work from home. Today, I edit a B2B architectural magazine and write for a variety of lifestyle publications, working at my own pace and on my own terms. It lets me maintain work-life balance and manage my work well.

The Case for Workflex

New research indicates that top talent isn’t just looking for perks and freebies; they want more “freedom and flexibility”. A Cornell University study found that companies that offer employees a choice in how they work grew four times faster with one-third the turnover rate of traditional firms.

The new research shows that a three-pronged approach helps a workplace to function most effectively – a variety of spaces in the office that balance quiet space for focus and shared space for collaboration, tools to work anywhere, and an updated company policy to optimise productivity.

No company or individual are the same. A flexible format needs to work for both, so work-from-home arrangements will vary from firm to firm. Firms are trying out a variety of formats – freelancers, part-time workers and flexible workers (who remain on the payroll but work out of home or reduce the number of hours spent in office or change their work schedule). The right mix can ensure gains in productivity and cost savings. All that’s needed is the right fit between remote and office working – appropriate technology, regular communication and a disciplined attitude.

It’s also extremely important not to forget the importance of networking. It’s vital to get out there and get face to face more than once in a while. Being online works extremely well these days, but there is a difference between social media and social evenings. Networking, be it one-on-one or at events, is about building relationships, standing and knowledge. Often, when you’re online, the communication may seem great but the absence of non-verbal clues such as tone of voice, facial expressions and body language can mar the forging of a great working relationship.

Networking today is all about building relationships, trust, credibility and knowledge. It gets tougher once you get out of the office cycle, but prioritising your work-from-home life can help create time for it. Going to office is not an essential to networking; not in the world we live in. Ask yourself: What will this do for me? Should I do this? If you feel it will add value, go for it. Motherhood and work-from-homing doesn’t mean sequestration. Making time for these opportunities and building on them can help add value – to you and your work life.

Texting and smartphones may have made communication easy, as have Skype, Hangout and Facetime, but there's no denying the advantages of interacting the old-fashioned way - face to face.

A Shift in Attitude

Despite the many advances at the workplace, work at your own pace and place (often termed consultancy and not freelance work by the ones who do it) continues to get a bad rap. It is seen as the choice of those who - simply put – don’t really have a career, but do a little bit of this and that. Often, the word work-from-homer is perceived as synonymous with unreliable, unemployed, unqualified and lazy.

I’ve been there, done that. Comments like “Ah, so you ‘work from home’?” “Isn’t that nice; you’re at home all day and you’re paid for it?” and “No office – I want a job like that too!” come my way regularly. It usually gets my hackles up to have to explain that work from home is challenging and fulfilling work; it’s not all picnic and play. Often, I simply don’t bother.

Over time, we will need to put the record straight. Shifting attitudes and changing workplaces will prove that most work-from-homers are trained, skilled, smart and capable; we are extremely conscientious about work and deadlines; we often spend longer hours “at work” than someone in a traditional setup; and all of us plan, organise and strategise – so what if it’s on our own turf and terms.

Employers are also waking up to the fact that a workday doesn’t mean eight straight hours of sitting at a work desk. Sometimes, whiling away time is important. It may seem like a waste of time, but you are actually doing important things – thinking random thoughts, connecting the dots, spotting patterns and changing perspectives. That’s when you think about things you don’t normally focus on, dream impossible dreams, and explore unchartered waters.
Despite the diversity, plurality and complexity, all workplaces need to have simplicity - simplicity of being, simplicity of essence. There is an osmotic relationship between our self and the work world - both of them mutually define each other. We must explore little ways in which the art of work is tied to workspaces and shed redundancies to reach a level that’s potent and strong on its own.

In the future, companies must build their work culture to support flexible hours as the workplace of the future will value output, not face time. Staying away from Workflex means staving off the large talent pool that’s keen to work, but can’t without flexibility. Open mindsets and cultures will ensure companies and staff adapt to change, constantly re-evaluate and learn to work seamlessly.