Remote working is the new ethos, can’t be rolled back now

As communities rush to attain normalcy in the post-pandemic phase, the WFH debate has heated up once again.

Published: 19th June 2022 07:52 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th June 2022 07:52 AM   |  A+A-

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Image used for representational purpose. (File photo | AFP)

Controversy King Elon Musk revived the debate around work-from-home (WFH) two weeks ago after he ordered Tesla employees back to ‘physical’ work. Those who did not accept the policy to end remote working were curtly told they could “pretend to work somewhere else”!

Musk believes to be commercially creative, one requires collective, shop floor presence, which cannot be ‘phoned-in’.”There are of course companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product? It’s been a while,” he said in an email to his employees. 

Ironically, Twitter, which Elon Musk is currently in a troubled acquisition game, has a diametrically opposite take. Twitter CEO Parag Aggarwal, wrote to his staff: “As we open back up, our approach remains the same. Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work and that includes working from home full-time forever.”

As communities rush to attain normalcy in the post-pandemic phase, the WFH debate has heated up once again. Those operating manufacturing and production lines, can’t have remote working. Banks too are insisting on staff coming back to work. On the other hand, tech companies, consultancies  and those in financial services have evolved various forms of hybrid ‘attendance’.

For individual employees, health issues weigh heavy, and are a deterrent to return to a daily 9-to-5 physical routine. In the US, office occupancy is still low. Kastle, which runs a security card access systems at thousands of buildings across the country, says office occupancy in the US is just 43% by May-end. Which way are things going to move?

Experimenting with hybrid 

In India, surveys have shown that the hybrid models giving employees a choice, or allowing them to work from multiple locations will continue for some time. A few companies are even recruiting for specific work-from-home placements, where salaries could be 15-20% lower than equivalent ‘physical’ positions. 

A survey of of 600 companies by human resources company CIEL HR for a business daily reported more than 50% of these companies had readied policies to continue with remote working after the pandemic recedes. Some like Mondelez and Tata Steel had been recruiting for permanent WFH jobs, while Maruti Suzuki, Mphasis and others had adopted ‘flexible office-on-some-days’ models. 

Most IT companies are working on long-term hybrid models, giving considerable choice to their employees. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is pitching the ‘three Es’ model for remote working. ‘Embrace’ is the first step where the employee learns to embrace a passion for work over domestic distractions of household chores, children and food. ‘Enable’ is for the company to create the right environment and tools for employees to work remotely; and finally both organisation and employee both need to be ‘empowered’ to work from anywhere. 

There is the other side too. Umpteen surveys have shown that stop-start schedules for hybrid working are exhausting to employees, and lack of clarity of what the company wants makes staffers uncomfortably tethered to ‘online attendance’. 

Lack of ‘physical’ team interaction in officers is also telling on morale and collective performance. Those working remotely feel the pressure of being done out of promotions and wage hikes, and discriminated against compared to colleagues who attend office physically and benefit from‘proximity bias’ with their bosses and team leaders. 

Shift in work ethos 

The sum total: work from home is here to stay. The pandemic has created a new mind set and a work culture on how performance is defined where physical presence does not count. Hundreds of employees have benefited from avoiding daily commutes. Thousands of start-ups have saved by  winding up expensive rented offices. Large corporations have learnt that, while face-to-face meetings with clients and vendors may create better bonhomie, a zoom meeting may deliver the same results without having to navigate airports and hotels. 

The attitude to work of millions will never be the same again. After the flexible cycle of work and leisure at home, they find themselves more productive and less stressed. It’s the new normal, and it can’t be rolled back easily. 

Apple learnt the hard way. The Big Tech company first ordered employees to report to work one day a week from April 11, then for 2 days a week, and from May 28 it was to be 3 days a week. However, the company had to quickly jettison the plan. Ostensibly it was called off because of rising Covid cases, but there was push back from the staff who insisted they could collaborate remotely using online tools like Slack. 

The trigger was Apple’s head of machine learning, Ian Goodfellow, who resigned after being ordered to come in for three days. He had been poached from Google in 2019, and Goodfellow returned to a Google subsidiary called DeepMind. As we said, rolling back WFH is not an option. What we will have instead is corporate consultancies how to make it work better.

Hybrid models of working

In India, surveys have shown that the hybrid models giving employees a choice, or allowing them to work from multiple locations will continue for some time



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