Coronavirus Pandemic: Work From Home Is The New Name For Freedom

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With COVID-19 Pandemic, social distancing is the new norm. A third of population around the globe is under lockdown, those with symptoms are self-isolated and others maintaining social distance. Work from home (WFH) is our new reality.

Every crisis serves as a learning opportunity for organisations, and this pandemic is proving to be quite the lesson.

For IT companies, WFH had been an established practice, but for others it is a bridge to be crossed. A huge reason behind the resistance is the lack of right technology and infrastructure to support WFH. For instance, employees might not have laptops, or connectivity issues at their homes and access to other resources, they might need. Also, there is an issue of data security as well as monitoring of employees for productivity. We can see data stealing cases daily on the internet. For many employers it is an unfamiliar experience, and there are psychological barriers around WFH. They are used to seeing their employee around where they can summon them. There is also an issue of trust, employers are resistant in handing over assets and data to the employees to take home.

Pros of work from home include zero travel, no more hours wasted in travel and congested traffic issues, saving on time and money, time wasted on commute and fuel cost is saved, flexibility, not only in terms of time also workspace. And at the same time, employees can get creative with their 8 hours as well as create workspace ambience of their preference.

Since there is a total lockdown in the Indian workplaces as well as other aspects, offices have to resort to work from home. All offices in India have been working virtually, people are treating their laptops as their bread and butter. There is no replacement available for this situation. It is something which can not be changed.

Companies categorically need to revamp their leave structures and employee benefit structures to incorporate disruptions caused by pandemics; however, governments must ensure that informal labourers that are not protected by these measures are not adversely affected by the pandemic’s damage to the economy. The informal workforce was looked down upon earlier but at this time, they are the ones helping us the most. People resorted to using e commerce websites for the smallest of things like soaps, detergents but at this time, there is no other option but to go back to the roots and the local vendors.

Several companies have created policies to support their employees in these uncertain days. While these customized initiatives are laudable, informal labourers are not equipped with the same security. Tata Steel has tweaked its leave policy to include a “special leave” for employees that need to self-quarantine based on perceived exposure, and RPG enterprise has created an “exceptional leave” policy with full pay for the same. Twitter has stated that all employees, including hourly workers, will receive reimbursement toward their home office set-up expenses. Furthermore, they are also working with their vendors to ensure contractors’ work from home needs are met.

India is yet to announce any amendment within existing labor laws to accommodate changes caused in employment conditions due to COVID-19. Navigating the work from home model can be difficult, especially for businesses that have no experience with remote operations. Therefore, it is important that management along with the legal and HR department come up with a set of guidelines for their employees to make the transition from being physically in office to remote collaboration smoother.

India’s IT industry, which employs over 3 million, typically has a large number of employees travelling overseas on projects and for client meetings. Since these tasks can not be fulfilled, employees have sort to video conferencing and other electronic modes of communication.

Some people from the corporate world have also commented regarding this issue. “We are sure that in the current situation, working from within the safe confines of their homes, the efficiency and productivity of our colleagues would increase,” said a representative for Paytm.

“By asking some employees to not come to office, our goal is to reduce density and risk for everyone else,” said Andrew Macdonald, senior vice president for rides and platform, Uber.

A spokesperson for Ola said, “Employees have been advised to work from home in case they seem to have any flu-like symptoms as a precautionary measure. As part of our preparedness module, a task force has been created that is actively working with employees. All non-essential inter-city and international travel have been put on hold.”

Twitter is going a step ahead and is compensating employees for any additional expenses they will incur while working from home.

The Indian government is constantly appealing to the public to not lay off people during these adverse conditions for the sake of humanity. Compensation schemes for the unemployed haven’t been given out by the government yet but they will be out shortly.

“Work-from-home is here to stay,” said Rajkamal Vempati, executive vice president & head – human resources, Axis Bank. For a bank, functions such as customer service roles, phone banking, HR, corporate office functions, which do not require meeting customers, could be the ones to be first considered for remote working. “Nearly 20-30% of the people can work virtually going ahead,” says Vempati.

Work from home can serve as a benefit for the organisations too. They won’t have to incur huge fixed charges for the employee settlement in the office area. The land requirement for the office, transportation allowance, meal allowance and quite a few more expenses will be cut down.

Over three-quarters of Indian respondents in a recent survey said they should have a work-from-home option. The survey was conducted by jobs portal Shine.com and included over 1,200 respondents aged between 22 years to 30 years, of which 70% were office goers, 10% involved in work-from-home jobs, and the rest a combination of the first two.

Work from home can be a win win situation for both the parties if used judiciously.

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