The coronavirus pandemic is creating widespread panic and fear globally. The new virus, which is spreading uncontrollably, has devastated world people and economies so much that even the developed countries are scrambling for help. Business activities have taken a nosedive and to survive the pandemic, organizations are leaning heavily towards work from home culture.
The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt on every corner of the globe. The structures of things are changing to accommodate the impact of the pandemic. The novelty of the virus means that, for now, prevention is the only cure. As such, people are encouraged to stay at home, abide by social distancing and frequently wash their hands.
While many organizations in India have previously opposed allowing their employees to work from home, current events have left them with no choice. It is surprising that despite the existence of technology that supports telecommuting, alongside the numerous benefits remote working brings to the organization; it takes a pandemic to make organizations adopt work from home into their organizational infrastructure.
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The Indian perspective
In many ways, technological advancement has brought expansive changes to the traditional way we do things. These changes also extend to workplaces and organizations. Due to ICT and the digital age, employees can finally work from home without organizations experiencing any form of productivity loss. In fact, organizations that adopt the work-from-home policy report an increase in employee productivity.
While telecommuting, vis-a-vis work from home, might be a new phenomenon in developing countries, Indian workers have been acquainted with the system for a while. Before the recent trends in ICT became widespread, large multinational corporations like American Express and British Airways ran operations in India that accommodated remote workers.
A consequence of this, observers claim, was the division of the players in the IT services industry into two: the captive and the independent. Wholly-owned Indian subsidiaries were called the captives. They were privy to diverse business lines and could associate with big names, although, they only did the bidding of their parent companies. A hoard of small players who survive on the provision of customer services to different western clients was referred to as the independents.
It is, therefore, incomprehensible to see that many Indian companies—particularly in traditional industries—are averse towards allowing employees to work from home. One will think that the improvements in ICT, especially now that organizations can hold virtual meetings, should encourage the already existing culture introduced by large foreign companies. As new-age startups embrace remote working, an employee working from home is offered as perks in established organizations.
With the coronavirus now declared a pandemic, companies are left with no choice but to make their staff remote workers. Experts estimate a period between 12-18 months before a cure is discovered. This leaves countries with only one solution: slowing down the spread of the virus. To do this, countries–India inclusive–are imposing strict lockdowns. As a result, many companies have instructed their employees to work from home.
Indian employers shouldn’t have had to be strong-armed by a pandemic before adopting work-from-home policies because of its numerous benefits. One of the advantages of remote working is that it frees up money that would have been spent on overhead obligations. This is $12000 of savings per year on one employee who works from home for two days per week. This money can be reinvested into other areas that ensure the company competes favorably through an increase in productivity, reduced office space and lower turnover.
Aside from this, telecommuting caters to the need of the employee in the form of striking a balance between work and life. It also creates a desire within employees to develop proficiencies in the application of work-related technology. Also, minor ailments and discomforts that cause absenteeism for the regular worker don’t stop a teleworker so far the best tools for remote working is at their disposal. Consequently, the flexible working environment makes a remote worker work more hours than the traditional worker, which is reported to have a 30 percent increase in productivity.
Organizations that understand the benefits of allowing employees to work from home are drafting it into their organizational policies for employees. To accommodate employee needs for flexible working, some organizations even impose mandatory monthly work-from-home options on employees. In other organizations, telecommuting is based on employee needs.
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Challenges that militate against Indian employees to work from home
In as much as most traditional Indian employers militate against adopting work-from-home policies, some organizations, especially startups, have a different attitude towards telecommuting. For these organizations, telecommuting is a crucial part of their operations. This is not only because remote working increases productivity but also because they understand how allowing employees to work from home accommodates employee needs.
To understand the attitude of workers to telecommute, Randstad conducted a survey aimed at identifying the most preferred mode among people aged 45 and above. Most of the respondents preferred to be remote workers. This shows that not only young adults prefer to work from home. An estimate of 53 percent of Indian employees prefer to telecommute and reveal workplace flexibility as one of their top preferences.
However, certain peculiarities within the Indian landscape prevent the efficient running of telecommuting. The inefficiency of the power industry alongside an ineffective telecom service renders telecommuting almost impossible. To work from home, employees need to enjoy a constant supply of electricity and a good internet connection. Bureaucratic protocols and an attitude of infidelity also make it uneasy to do business in the country: businesses need to run for telecommuting to exist.
Work from home: Potential impacts on the workplace in India
As stated earlier, the impact of technology has not only increased the level of productivity, it is redefining the workplace. For employees in India, a crucial for work is the flexibility that comes with telecommuting. This much was confirmed by a survey carried out by LinkedIn where 48 percent of the respondents preferred to work from home over getting a higher paycheck. Employees now see work as what you do, not where you go.
For organizations, having employees who work from home means they can implement a concept known as “hot-desking”. The traditional workplace demands that each employee gets a personal workstation. With telecommuting, employees can share the same desks since everyone doesn’t come to work every day. This is what hot-desking is all about: employees sharing the same workstation. Consequently, the overhead cost incurred from procuring and maintaining this equipment is either saved or invested.
Since 2005, the number of companies in India offering work from home options has increased. Also, according to a survey carried out by HR service provider, Randstad, most workers in India are attracted to telecommuting. Gradually, employees are beginning to do their regular jobs remotely. The paradigm of a new office is emerging as telecommuting, through the use of ICT, is bringing the work to employees instead of the other way round. The structural change in this working style is brought about by technology.
Companies that allow their employees to work from home indirectly help their employees build self-discipline. This goes into making employees work more hours from their remote location, thereby, building confidence with their managers. Organizations can also easily identify employees that are ineffective when they work from home and take appropriate actions. However, organizations need to recognize that telework is not suitable for every employee, job or manager.
Working from home will also reduce the number of hours spent commuting from home to work. An estimate of 3-4 hours is spent daily on the road. This is not unrelated to the increasing number of private cars in India and a public transport system working at full capacity. Together, they contribute to an increase in time spent commuting to work and stress levels of employees. Telecommuting also contributes to eliminating this kind of inefficiency.
- It took a pandemic for India Inc. to accept the benefits of working from home by Nisha Ramchandani: March 18, 2020
- 1 in 2 Indian employees prefer telecommuting: Randstad survey
- Remote Work in India: A New Normal? by SUE DURIO, WORLDWIDE ERC; August 09, 2018
- Work from home: Benefits and challenges by Shalini Sengupta; June 24, 2016
- Teleworking in India: Pros, Cons, and Scope by Sadianasr; 2012