Not (working), Work From Home: When the drawbacks outnumber the benefits

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Updated: Jun 18, 2020 1:33 PM

Depending on how and where we live, including our ability to be productive outside an office environment, Work From Home (WFH) can be a bane.

work from home, WFH, how to work from home, should you do work from home, benefits of working from home,In Indian metro cities, the relatively smaller size of our homes and inhabited mostly by a joint family leaves no room to reclaim or build an isolated ‘study room’- a dedicated space for working from home further making WFH extremely challenging.

Recently, a middle-level manager who was working from home for a Fortune 500 Company found himself in a Catch 22 situation when the CEO insisted that he attend the outreach leadership meeting on a video call.

Incredulously the CEO, who was ready to take the call from his study room, was unaware that the manager was struggling to work from a 500 sqft apartment that he shared with his extended family. That day the manager took the call from the back seat of his parked car – the only self-isolated place he had immediate access to. And he is not alone in this struggle.

Depending on how and where we live, including our ability to be productive outside an office environment, Work From Home (WFH) can be a bane.

The movement to WFH under intense timelines and uncontrollable outside factors has seen experts re-visiting their own views as well. Take for example, Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom who spoke positively about remote working in his 2014 study. The report examined remote workers at a travel agency and found that they were 13 per cent more efficient than their office-based peers. The same professor today reportedly says, “Working from home with your children is a productivity disaster.” “My 4-year-old regularly bursts into the room hoping to find me in a playful mood shouting “doodoo!” – her nickname for me – in the middle of conference calls,” Bloom says now. The irony of the entire situation is not lost upon us!

It gets trickier in a country like ours which dabbles with its own unique set of challenges. Lack of robust IT infrastructures such as reliable power and broadband connectivity makes WFH inefficient, to say the least. We end up spending a good amount on high-speed internet plans and top-ups, yet, connectivity is always a struggle.

Apart from that, in Indian metro cities, the relatively smaller size of our homes and inhabited mostly by a joint family leaves no room to reclaim or build an isolated ‘study room’- a dedicated space for working from home further making WFH extremely challenging. Not to forget the dismal quality of acoustics and data speed, along with larger business issues like lack of hardware support, firewalls, and so on. Our office spaces, such as the work chairs or the floor table height are designed to ensure the employees are comfortable while clocking long hours. This comfort is missing when you are unable to designate a spot with uninterrupted decorum, signal strength, and comfort of easily accessible plug points around at home.

All these issues together nullify any absolute perks (commute time and cost savings) or perceived perks (flexibility in the schedule) we may be receiving from working from home.

Take for example a situation where a young couple, both working for rival companies in the financial sector, working together in their WFH arrangement. What happens when either or both of them are working on extremely critical and confidential high-value information? How does one address data privacy, client confidentiality, and other security issues associated with the banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) sector?

Although, there is no denying that working from home has been beneficial for new parents, people who stay very far away from the office or others who may not operate in a comfortable and resourceful office setup.

Even any WFH evangelist will, however, admit that the isolation and the resulting mental stress that working from home brings cannot be replaced by the highly interactive office environment. Also, it becomes extremely challenging to switch off the ‘office mode’ and turn on the ‘home mode’, as there are no ‘in’ and ‘out’ timings or an absolute change of physical space. One tends or is expected to be constantly ‘plugged in’. That puts a big strain on mental well-being for any person. The office culture, the energy, the water cooler chats, and the cafeteria breaks are what makes each one of us a crucial contributing part of the larger business community.

Long hours in front of the computer at home and an overdose of video calls is causing screen fatigue and death of creativity. Steve Jobs always believed that Apple employees’ best work came from accidentally bumping into other people, not sitting at home in front of an email inbox. “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions,” Jobs reportedly said.

This brings me to the most important aspect of an office atmosphere: The office culture. Each organization builds a certain office culture that is unique to itself. Certain organizations are considered better employers largely based on their office culture that allows employees to grow both in their personal and professional life. How will an organization build an office culture if the employees are working from home?

Humans are social animals. Isolate us and we lose the basic capacity to think innovatively and produce great results. Long hours of remote working, devoid of any actual human touch, brings in self-induced mental isolation that can have an extremely negative impact. A physical meeting with teammates and the dynamic atmosphere of a meeting room can never be replaced by video conferencing.

Going ahead, I do believe that 5-15 per cent of employees will continue to work remotely in the long term. However, today we live in the hope that with the situation globally returning to normal, we will all see ourselves back in the offices soon.

By Ramesh Nair, CEO and Country Head (India) JLL

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