In the Past.
If you’d have pitched the idea of working from home to someone about a hundred years ago, they’d have looked at you as if you had just suggested them to drink up sand or chew on water. The very phrase, “work from home” sounds oxymoronic from the traditionalist’s perspective, with the words “work” and “home” representing personal and professional lives that could never be combined. Glenn McGrath, legendary Australian fast bowler, had once said in an interview to the BBC that the secret behind his success was a clear-cut demarcation between his personal and professional life and that the moment he stepped past the boundary line and into the ground, he’d have nothing on his mind except the game of cricket he was about to play. It was this attitude that had helped him perform his best on-field while coping with his wife’s demise to cancer off the field. So, if this active act of differentiating between personal and professional parts of our life is so important and productive, there should be no doubt as to the fact that “work from home”, as a concept, is futile and counterproductive. Right?
And yet, a survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics revealed that the no. of employees working from home between 2005 and 2015 in the US increased by a whopping 115%. So, if working from home is inefficient and makes us incompetent, why do people prefer it so much?
As almost all of us have witnessed, the emergence of Internet and wireless media has turned various impossibilities into recognised realities and telecommuting or remote working is no different. You see, the mandatory difference between personal and professional life we referred to above, does not necessarily have to be a physical barrier. It is, in its true essence, a barrier in the mind, like a switch you can turn on and off when necessary and thus, working from home is never a problem as long as you can establish boundaries between your professional and personal
space. If you manage to do so, working from home actually provides some major advantages over working in an office, both for the employers and the employees.
According to a report from the United Nations International Labour Organization, working from home led to substantial productivity boosts for workers, helped reduce their commute stress and the flexibility they enjoyed with work hours helped boost mood and morale. Let us have a deeper look at each of these in turn.
Daily commute, as just about any office goer will tell you, is easily one of the most frustrating parts of a person’s daily routine. The constant irritation and discomfort of getting caught in traffic jams with itchy bodies, amidst the stench of sweat and smoke, whether that is early in the morning or late in the evening, is not a pleasurable experience. Telecommuting addresses this most traumatic issue by removing it altogether. While working from home, you can begin your workday with a nice hot cup of tea by simply sitting at your worktable and turning on your PC. You also don’t have to deal with the stress of rushing off to work or the panic of being late and facing a grumpy boss.
This brings us to our second point, that of flexible work hours. As just about every telecommuter will be able to tell you, one of the biggest and best benefits of working from home happens to be the flexibility in work hours you get. This is a major advantage because now you can fine tune your work hours and adjust them to your sleep schedules and other household work you may need to perform on a daily basis. It allows you to pick out the most convenient hours of a day for your work when you feel comfortable and focused, thereby leading to proportional boost in productivity. This is especially helpful for women particularly those who are part of traditional societies and are associated with taking care of children and housekeeping by default.
A friendly environment.
It is no secret that women and marginalised sections of society are often forced to deal with toxicity in the workplace. Whether it is an ill-mannered boss who won’t shut up about how beautiful your lipstick is while staring at you for too long or a co-worker who keeps referring to you as “nigga” or “blackie”, racial slurs, and sexual advances are ubiquitous evils of every other office that can ruin a person’s day while harassing them physically and mentally. Working from home can largely mitigate this issue by limiting our exposure and interaction with these uncouth personalities while letting us work alongside our loved ones, who love and accept us no matter who we are. So, clearly at this point you must feel that working from home is bliss and the next best thing to heaven, right? But, hang on. The grass, unlike what it may seem, is not entirely green on the other side either. While telecommuting has the aforementioned benefits, each of these do come with a caveat.
Obscured Boundaries: Under-work & Overwork.
It is much easier said than done, for instance, to maintain the demarcation between your personal and professional life when you bring both of them over to the same place. Unplanned interferences, momentary urges and lethargy are some major problems. A certain family member may walk in on you by mistake, your kid may start playing video games with loud music or your neighbour may come visiting now that you’re home more often. Each of these unwelcome interferences can be a major obstruction to your workflow. However, not all obstacles come from outside. With the bedroom 10 steps from your table and the kitchen or fridge, another 10 steps, keeping up your levels of determination can be rather difficult and before you know it, you might find yourself sipping on a cup of coffee while watching your favourite TV show during your work hours, thereby getting nothing done. On the other side of the coin, overworking can be just as much of a problem as underworking. Without the customary limiting hours of an office, you may stay stuck to your computer for 14-16 hours a day with inadequate rest. "When does the work day start? End? Creating a hard line between work/home is tough," says innovator and author of “Lean UX”, Jeff Gothelf. Work is unending and there is always something waiting for you on the horizon, once you’re done with your current
assignment. It can be a struggle to switch off and stay switched off during your leisure hours with your laptop at your side.
Isolation and Mental health.
The absence of daily commute it without a doubt, a great advantage. However, working from home can often lead to an isolated, sedentary lifestyle. The same report from the United Nations International Labour Organization mentioned above, found that people working from home often suffered from symptoms of cabin fever and mental illness while their physical health took a turn for the worse. Our colleagues at the office offer us the opportunity to socialise. The occasional conversations we have with them in between work have a watercooler effect on our
brain and relieve us of some unnecessary stress. As renowned actor and producer Cody Jones put it perfectly, when working from home, “sometimes it is hard to explain to others that all your friends are online."
So, like most things in life, the concept of “working from home” is not entirely perfect either. However, that does not make it any less appealing. In fact, as the current pandemic has revealed, working from home could very well turn out to be the future and most of the problems mentioned above can be solved with a proactive approach.
Reserving a specific part of the house as your professional space and advising your family members against intrusion during your work hours can be a major step in the right direction. Similarly, fixing up a certain routine to limit the work hours in a day can go a long way in preventing overworking. We should try to find time outside of work to exercise and socialise regularly. Joining a local gym can be a great way to
do both of those things simultaneously.
WFH – The Future.
“It’s not so much that telecommuting is good or bad; it’s just that sometimes it’s advantageous and sometimes it’s not,” says renowned business scholar RS Gajendran. There, of course, are drawbacks in conducting some particular jobs online such as teaching that require a more personal touch. Moreover, technicalissues, especially in developing countries like India, where a stable and decent bandwidth connection is hard to find, have to be taken into consideration. However, the question is not so much of the “if” as it of the “how”.
Working from home has allowed people to find work in spite of living in remote locations. It has led to a greater participation of women in the national workforce of countries and forced men to take up the mantle occasionally in terms of household work, thus equalising gender norms. Ramkumar Ramamurthy, former Chairman of Cognizant Foundation, reports that more 50% of the telecommuting workforce for his company, during the pandemic, constitutes women. If there is anything that the present pandemic has taught us, it is that, contrary to popular prejudice,
telecommuting does not lead to reduced commitment on the part of an employee. A stay-at-home mum is likely to work just as hard as a young man. This has led to the reduction of the social stigma against telecommuters who were often not considered for promotions. The future of work is one of flexibility, equality, inclusion and autonomy where work from home will be judged on the same footing as work done at the office and the true hallmark of a great employee won’t be the colour of his skin or cost of his clothes, but rather the quality of work he or she can provide whether it from one’s house, a coffee shop or an office.