Work from home is not a panacea for all work related pangs! Just like all things in life, working from home is a mixed bag. While there are lots of good things about working from home, it is not as easy to make work from home really work, especially in the Indian context. It takes tyrannical amount of discipline to resist the temptation of mixing work and pleasure.
Shalini Jha, a technical lead at Elucian software, has been working from home for eight years. She says, “At times I am at my peak efficiency when I work from home, but there are a few limitations. I have to take up projects which are less elaborate, involve smaller teams and fewer complications. Since I am not physically present at office, I feel like an odd one in the group. I have to become less ambitious and lots of times forgo an opportunity, a promotion or a leadership profile.” Another problem with working from home is that it becomes difficult to explain friends and family that work from home is not frivolous. It is serious work and she is not ‘free’ to attend to household work and run errands while she is working.
Shalini is not alone. Many women and men face this challenge of convincing their families or friends or neighbours that when they work from home, they are really working. There are many other challenges that might disrupt the effectiveness of working from home.
Discipline : It takes a herculean amount of discipline to start your work at office hours and wind up at or after office hours. With so much hustle bustle happening around, it can be difficult to shut yourself into your home office or get into the working mode at 9am.
Out of sight, out of mind: In certain work cultures, employee has to position himself and gun for a new project or opportunity. If you work out of home it may be difficult for you to grab an opportunity as the chances of your knowing of the latest office dynamics are slim. The boss cannot see that you are working hard or putting in extra hours, so you are judged more on the numbers than your work ethic and other intangible factors.
Self Motivation: When you are working alone, you need to be self driven to meet the deadlines. Even if you don’t feel like it or have had a bad day, you cannot stop work and go for a little coffee chat with colleagues. You need to recharge yourself and continue.
Distractions: The temptation to have that another cup of tea and read the supplement newspaper in between work, or lingering around after lunch may be difficult to fight with no one watching or questioning. An incident at home or in the society can also interrupt your work.
Lack of competitive spirit: A major disadvantage of working from home is the lack of camaraderie which stems from meeting and working together each day. Colleagues and peers also help keep the competitive spirit and mental agility alive which increases productivity. Talking to people over calls can only mitigate this to an extent. You may not be able to collaborate with the team or have in person interactions and team meetings with as much effectiveness as the ones in office.
Working hours are not defined: Since you’ll never be out of office, the chances of getting calls at odd hours increase. In fact, you may end up working more as there are no dedicated ‘office hours’. Companies keep tabs on your working hours through software that monitors your login and logout time.
There is a lot of reassuring rhetoric doing rounds in the top management, and leadership conferences and boardrooms about flexible working and working from home, but a lot of this is spiel. It is not backed by supportive policies or actions which promote working from remote locations or telecommuting.
Marissa Mayer, the youngest CEO of Yahoo, banned work from home affirming, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” She believes that people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re most collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.
The issue is an interesting and controversial one, with some organizations considering this practice disposable, while some using it judiciously and a very few viewing it the wave of the future. Shalini recalls, “I was the first person to get a work from home arrangement”. She says the company does not have any documented or regular policy towards allowing employees to work from home. She was given an exception only because she was moving out of the city and both she and the company wanted to continue with each other.
Elucian is an American software firm with India headquarters in Bangalore. They develop software for higher education and have offices in various countries across the globe. Being a multinational firm they have immense respect and cognizance of cultural diversity, and the impact of demographics on people’s perception and performance at work. Yet one thing that remains common is the apprehension to encourage work from home, ‘as it requires a lot of commitment, and ownership for the tasks to be completed’.
How organizations view work from home is also a function of the industry they operate in. A capital market professional says, “We need our team together to take a decision on buying or selling a stock. The market is dynamic and decisions need to be taken at the spur of the moment.”
In the Indian context, work from home has not been able to penetrate most of the industries and organizations. Indian companies have stringent laws about data portability, restricted access to central servers, data privacy, desktop policy and the mindset of managing people by ‘line of sight’. The cost of providing work from home in such a case will involve laptops, IT support, designing of controls, software and metrics to keep a track of employees’ activities and working hours. All this will not only mean additional cost, but an entire shift in organizational culture and establishing trust in its employees.