The work-from-home experiment: What can students (future managers) learn from this?

Published: March 30, 2020 2:00:08 AM

Shashwati, a news analyst, is able to do research at home, but her effectiveness has dropped in the absence of the right infrastructure.

Clearly, work-from-home poses challenges such as lack of infrastructure, distractions, roles that don’t lend themselves to work-from-home.
  • By Charu Sabnavis

With social distancing recognised as a viable means to battle COVID-19—and India under complete lockdown—work-from-home has become the norm. But, for many, this is a first-time experience. “It’s 10:00 am and I’ve neither had breakfast nor bath. On a normal work day, I would be neck deep in work at this hour,” says Ragini, a marketing executive at an FMCG company. “I have dependencies on other teams for turning in my deliverables, and things take much longer to close on a call, impacting my productivity,” she adds.

“With travel out of the way, working from home was awesome the first few days!” exclaims Shruti, a visual merchandiser at a fashion retailing group. “But the novelty soon wore off as my core work, which entails implementing visual designs for apparel displays at our stores, came to a halt.”

A sales executive at a restaurant aggregator expresses a similar sentiment. Shashwati, a news analyst, is able to do research at home, but her effectiveness has dropped in the absence of the right infrastructure. “Besides, there are distractions—children on vacation, door bells and social media. One tends to be more laidback, even disoriented, at home,” she says. Clearly, work-from-home poses challenges such as lack of infrastructure, distractions, roles that don’t lend themselves to work-from-home.

Create the right ambience: “I’ve designated a spot in the house as my work area, and I consciously structure the day as a ‘work day’, finishing household chores before 9:00 am, drawing up my to-do list, scheduling tasks entailing concentration early morning and others in the afternoon, just as I do on an ‘office day’,” says Shruti. Shashwati is putting efforts to ward off distractions. “The first few days I was distracted. I found myself playing music, grabbing munchies at odd times, or engaging on the social media much more,” she remarks.

“Things tend to move much faster in office; when you are in the thick of things, distractions tend to be relegated to the background. I feel guilty each time I take a break at home,” adds Ragini.

Keep them alert: Managers must keep the team in the ‘work’ mindset by engaging in one-on-one calls, asking questions, and holding people accountable.

Keep them together: “My manager initiates ‘team connect’ calls, where we lay out team ‘to-dos’ for the day, and discuss important issues. She also lays down the rules of engagement while working from home in terms of expected response time and escalation mechanism,” says Ragini.

Keep them engaged: First, conduct a virtual ‘offsite’ to introspect team-specific issues and brainstorm to line up solutions, something for which it is hard to otherwise find time. Second, encourage the team to sharpen its saw by recommending online courses, webinars and other leaning recourses. Third, check the possibility of individual team members can go on field.

Work-from-home has featured in the HR policy roster of many organisations for a while. But it has not been embraced in the earnest, as it comes with fine-print like ‘provided your boss is okay’ or ‘on certain days’ or ‘only for women with young kids’ or ‘only for certain roles’. But now that the corporate world has been forced into this ‘work-from-home’ experiment, it is an opportunity to delve into pros and cons, what’s worked and what’s not, what can be done to tune systems and processes to render it viable. Work-from-home is likely to gain traction, going forward.

(The author is an executive coach, organisational development facilitator, and founder-director of Delta Learning. Views are personal.)

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