Careers

Understanding remote working against the backdrop of a pandemic

Representational picture

Representational picture  

In these days of remote working, when it is more of an exigent need and hardly a considered choice, how does the average office-goer who has a certain ritual, a certain pattern to working bring that same ethos to the home?

A vast chunk of the workforce across the board is working from home today, and to call it a huge jump from earlier numbers of the remote-functioning workforce (largely constituted by gig economy workers and others requiring special working arrangements), would be a blatant under statements. This does beg the question: how do you deliver work from a new environment (it’s your home, but you never thought of it as your workplace). The first point is to accept the change. If we observe closely, our routines and patterns keep changing over a period of time. Change could be due to a new organisation, a new office facility or different work locations. Will we miss the old rituals? Of course. But, then, just the way we get used to new scenarios, we will automatically get used to new patterns and behaviours while we work from home. Today technology enables us to stay connected with colleagues on WhatsApp, Cliq, Google hangout, as also tools such as Zoom and Skype.

For those of us working from home for the first time, a few quick pointers: One, treat work from home (WFH) seriously, and this would mean following some of the norms that go with working in an office, such as a dress code and timings. Two, it is necessary to engage with your team. Three, communicate, communicate, communicate. Err on the side of plenty and communicate with your boss more than usual. And of course, there should be a frank conversation with all your stakeholders at home – children, parents, spouse, extended family about your new work arrangement and its demands. Four, motivate yourself frequently. This particular WFH scenario is hardly business-as-usual. Hence there might be a sense of dullness. Don’t assume that WFH has to always be under stressful situations. Listen to music, have a chat with a colleague, raise your spirits. Even if you miss your office and the camaraderie with colleagues, realise that this could well be the new normal.

Does the Covid experiment of remote working bode well for organisations that are yet to institutionalise this as a way of working? Will this experience prove an eye-opener for them?

A whole lot of organisations – both Indian and global – have rolled out work-from-home plans in the last few weeks. For a good number of these companies, it is not something new. But for a vast number of companies, it is. They include small and medium businesses which have until that day, never ever had employees working from home. To work effectively from home, we need the full spectrum of all enablers – great connectivity, the hardware, the software, a separate workspace, clarity in your tasks for the day, a workable schedule you can stick to, and ways to connect with others. Work from home / remote work is and has always been possible as a concept. Depending on the industry, it can vary from 25% to 100%. As a result of the COVID-19 situation, a number of organisations are alive to the advantages of flexibility. All that they have to do now is to draw up policies and protocols and reporting guidelines to integrate WFH organically and seamlessly into their work culture.

If WFH is successful now, will it mean good news for certain talent pools that seek flexibility as a key enabler?

Absolutely! For the longest time, seeking flexibility in working has been seen as a huge career impediment. In fact, young mothers and care givers resorted to work-from-home to grapple with life needs, and that was unfairly held against them. Talent scouts stayed clear of “those diversity profiles who require flexibility” because they found it difficult to convince operating managers that such diversity (and flexibility) built better organisational culture.

Around the world, there are eight popular strands of diversity that organisations focus on – Gender, Ability, Generation, Sexual Orientation, Culture & Language, Socio-Economic dimensions, Religion and Ethnicity. Of these, Gender, Ability, Generation & SED are those strands for which most companies have talent acquisition strategies. Research has time and again established that flexible working is one of the Top 3 enablers for these talent segments. However, remote work might not be viewed only as a “diversity or minority” prerogative. And having robust systems to support work from home and other modes of flexibility can prove to be critical for talent retention irrespective of the diversity strand, they represent. This will in turn enable talent pools of more than 15 lakh women second-career professionals, over 20 lakh persons with disability and close to 5 lakh trained veterans (India data 2016), to contribute a whopping INR 14 billion to the Indian economy.

(Saundarya Rajesh is founder-president, Avtar Group that has undertaken initiatives relating to flexible and remote working)

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 4:10:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/understanding-remote-working-againstthe-backdrop-of-a-pandemic/article31167368.ece

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