Wait and watch

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Wait and watch

Friday, 17 September 2021 | Sujit Patil

Wait and watch

The Indian workforce is rebooting to find a work-life balance, says Sujit Patil

From an office built to bring people closer to collaborate and have an in-person engagement, the pandemic, by bringing work from home (WFH) in vogue, has apparently pushed organisations to rejig their working styles to meet social distancing norms. Virtual working has become the de-facto model. As the industry struggles to find a balance and experiments with hybrid models, on the brighter side, the Indian workforce has slowly started to adapt itself to strike a work-life balance with the new conditions.

A Godrej group’s research, named ‘The little things we do’, revealed how professionals across all age-groups have balanced working from home with their personal lives. During the first nationwide lockdown, working professionals struggled to manage their work deadlines and household chores. For some, it was challenging, while others chose to adapt and adjust to it.

The study found that nationally on the personal front, working from home has helped more than one in three persons to spend more time with family due to the removal of the long commute time to their workplace. This trend wasn’t far off from the expected lines in metros and tier one cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, and Kolkata. However, tier two cities such as Lucknow and Kanpur (56 per cent), Kochi (46 per cent) reported better figures than the national average.

Connect this insight with the MoveInSync study of 2018-19 which found that, on an average, Indians spend seven per cent of their day commuting to the office, and the picture becomes clearer. Similarly, Uber’s Movement data in 2020 pointed out that an average Mumbaikar wastes about 11 days stuck in traffic each year. With working from home, these are the precious hours earned back by people. The choice, therefore, is between utilising this time for enhancing productivity, spending time with family and friends, or exploring creative pursuits.

It was also found that more than one in five have explored their creative side and nurtured it to become home-cooks, painters, sketchers and pursue other hobbies. But one of the most delightful insights was the movement towards freshly cooked food. Over 45 per cent of people said that now they loved indulging in little pleasures like freshly cooked breakfast every day. For mental health and stress management, 29 per cent of respondents took regular breaks throughout the day to de-stress themselves.

As we are at the crossroads of deciding whether work from home would continue or there would be a hybrid model as the impact of the pandemic wanes, we must take a pause and evaluate the benefits.

As many as there are benefits of adopting a work from home model, there are also numerous impediments that it causes. For instance, circadian rhythms of co-workers is an inherent lacuna of the WFH model. People are susceptible to household distractions and it puts the onus on employees to create a conducive environment that helps them focus on their work goals.

With work from home becoming a day to day affair for the working force, only 19 per cent of people who participated in the research reported that they have improved at work efficiency and end tasks within the stipulated working hours. Additionally, only 16 per cent consider that working from home has assisted them in increasing their time-management skills.

For Asian countries, and especially India, perhaps WFH may not a very conducive model. The Indian workforce, traditionally and culturally, has always valued social interactions. However, they were thrust involuntarily towards the model with little time to adjust to the changed environment, triggering a feeling of social isolation due to the touch-less and faceless work environment.

An independent study, authored by Michael Gibbs from Chicago Booth, Friederike Mengel and Christoph Siemroth from University of Essex have validated this phenomenon. The team surveyed 10,000 employees of an unnamed major IT company based in Asia over 17 months before and during work from home trend set in.The primary finding was that total work hours by an employee surged by about 30 per cent in order to achieve the same goals set in pre-WFH period.

Responsible organisations, therefore, are exploring a hybrid model or adopting a wait-and-watch policy towards resuming entry to offices. Meanwhile, they have stepped in with the necessary support for mental and physical health of their employees through various programmes and initiatives. Similarly, employees, too, are slowly adjusting to the changing environment by doing little things which can help them attain a work-life balance.

But only time will time tell whether the hybrid model will prove to be successful in India or will we revert to the traditional model of offline office environment.

 (The author is the vice president of Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies.)

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