The work-from-home corporate strategy

Written by charulataravikumar | Updated: Mar 2 2014, 08:03am hrs
Picking up that briefcase (read: laptop bag, if you must) and your car keys, and rushing out with a half-eaten toast in your hand in the pretence of chairing the next economic summit in the next 10 minutes is an SOP for many Indian men. If this routine were to be taken out of their lives, the incidence of ailments like depression, colic and deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) may well be on the rise. And the only form of exercise for 80% urban-dwellers would have just vanished!

Ok, all you office-o-holics, prepare for this, as the increasing Rh factor (cmon! Rh = Recession hit) of this new world has introduced the uncomfortable trend of work-from-home (WFH) corporate strategy. Yes, more and more MNCs have realised that this is a great way to keep overheads down and manage bottomlines. Shutting down offices, centralising management and outsourcing of support services are all part of this new Rh way of working.

Some large organisations are also finding merit in outsourcing core sales functions through channel partners and distributors, resulting in efficiencies and, believe it or not, reportedly increased productivity. Says Vipin Tuteja, executive director-technology, channels and international business, Xerox: We have more mobile teams that are working in the field and often also collaborating across time-zones with their global counter parts. In this environment, it is imperative to think beyond conventional office paradigms. Xerox has invested in this infrastructure and has embraced the concept of virtual offices and flexible hours, as it is not only employee-friendly and cost-effective, but also gives us competitive edge, allows our people to spend more time with our customers and partners without being tied down by the boundaries of a physical office.

Seems like this trend will stay, even if the Rh factor decreases. Why Because the companies would have tasted the sweet rewards and this new way may be easier to create, manage and even dismantle. But there is a lot of insecurities around this causing initial morale erosion and panic about new jobs. Organisations need to manage this process to a win-win situation to avoid insecurity and instability.

Many conscientious organisations plan this transition by taking their staff along, and ensuring their re-enforced commitment to the larger goal. Heres how these companies have achieved it:

Aligning goals: Reviewing the larger goal of the organisation and the various inputs and their implications to cost, speed and reach must be aligned to the individual career goals of employees. And, importantly, the same must be communicated for clarity.

Positioning this change: Todays business environment is heavily skewed to a service advantage. Communicating this WFH strategy as a cost-cutting measure is formula for bad PR all around. And, in fact, its benefits go well beyond.

No surprises: The process is no knee-jerk reaction to showcase better results. It is a well-planned strategy to right-size the organisation. Which function can be a WFH and which can be outsourced are to be weighed against speed of delivery and proximity to customer and, of course, cost benefits. If employees are made aware of this intention well before any action is taken, they are better prepared and more accepting of this change.

Customer alignment to strategy: A right-sizing strategy such as this is bound to send out mixed signals. Managing the external environment is equally important. A pre-briefing charting out changes to come prepares the employees to manage their internal queries and also perceive this as an initiative to service them better and at all times, especially with the world now, as the markets and time zones are no more a barrier.

Lifestyle change management: Organisations must invest in helping their employees cope with this change or else it will be counter-productive. WFH needs much discipline and a re-orientation to time planning. Not having a desk or donning official suits is disorienting but the advantage is that it allows you the freedom and flexibility of an informal style that can bring out your best. Talent management needs re-wiring with new skills required to fill new needs.

Opportunities for gender balance: Many organisations see this as an opportunity to bring more women into the work force. New talent hires are being considered a basis for WFH contracts allowing to explore the inclusion of the dormant women workforce.

New evaluation framework: Organisations will need to set up new systems on a real-time feedback basis for evaluation and course correction. Centralised technology hubs can gather information from all centres and virtual conference rooms can help expedite market strategies and arrest errors faster.

As this new work culture comes into force, we may see some ancillary advantages toolike reduced sexual harassment cases, less absenteeism (no more excuses like I am not feeling well, so I will work from home!) and more result-based remuneration and rewards.

But like all good things that come with a caveat, watch out for more marital discords as its going to be Honey Im home, for good, or a restless mother who wont be able to say the trademark line, Beta tu ghar aa gaya. Nahin Ma, ab to makaan hi meri dukaan hai... tujhe sab pata hai na Ma

Charulata RK is innovations adviser and director, Coffee Kettle