Is work from home still working?
Is it time to bid goodbye to the work from home, work-in-PJs phase? Sushmita Bose ponders over the current state of WFH culture, through the lens, lightly
Okay, so what the hell — or WTH, in case you were wondering what the headline meant (the hashtag, obviously, is for effect). Was it just a year and a half ago that obituaries were being written on workspaces? ‘Well-researched’ scholarly tomes — quoting experts — were being put out that noisily rang the death knell for brick-and-mortar offices?
Exactly a year ago, (an abbreviated) ‘work from home’ complete with a hashtag — #WFH — trended like crazy on social media… and elsewhere. Literally everyone I was meeting spoke at length, often offering data to back such claims, how “working” will never be the same in the arena of white-collared jobs. #WFH is here to stay, smoke that into your peace pipe and get ready to have your Zoom meeting across the dining table.
I wanted to ask a rhetorical question. So I did. What happens if Covid becomes a thing of the past?
The person I was speaking with fancies himself as a domain expert on everything under the sun. Won’t matter one whit whether or not Covid stays or goes, he explained. “You see, companies are going to realise WFH is a much cheaper alternative, they are saving on office space, saving on utility bills, may get away without giving raises since employees are saving on transport costs and other incidentals…”
“What other incidentals?” I immediately interrupted.
Like corporate dressing, he shot back. “Do you know how much a tie costs these days? And others judge you if you wear the same tie or same pair of shoes too often! Also, instead of paying extra for a coffee with a client at a fancy setting, you can simply make your ambient Zoom wallpaper fancy.”
I had to nod my head in agreement.
All sectors jumped onto the bandwagon. Internet service providers rubbed their hands in glee and threw in bells and whistles with new deals to get in more bandwidth. WFH fashion became a thing. As you sat in your sunny courtyard and sent out official mails dressed in PJs and tees, an entire ancillary industry was taking shape: providing you with a ‘stylish/elegant yet comfy’ (new) wardrobe so that you, while making full use of the reclining chair and putting your feet up, also notched up points in the haute quotient — after all, you want to look your best for yourself first, right?
In the media, there were stories commissioned (and on social media people unsolicitedly opined) how productivity was going up, and employees — already on a diet of less oily home food — were finally getting leeway to do yoga at home, and spending “quality time” with significant others, children, and pets.
There appeared to be a fleeting flipside. A friend who considers herself “sociable” had fessed up to me in the middle of last year that “This is not going to work for me, I am a people’s person, I need to be in the middle of office action…”
Six months later, she was telling me she’s loving WFH and doesn’t want to go back to work.
“What about the people interaction?”
“Who cares about people?” she snorted.
After all that jazz that lasted a goodly 18 months, I came across a KPMG report that said most companies plan to recant WFH policies that they had said were watertight a year ago. As usual, there’s data. In August 2020, 69 per cent CEOs had planned to “reduce office space”; but the 2021 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey indicates only 17 per cent of those same folks are sticking to their guns. I have a feeling by the time the year runs out, it might just be 0 per cent.
I’ve been a bit curious about how companies quantified that all-important notion of a “working day” when staff members were homing in. Another friend, who’s been through a “stupendous WFH stretch” (her words, not mine), and is still doing mostly WFH, gave me a primer. “Well, we log in at a particular time, and then we log out at a particular time. The records are there in the system.”
Right, I said, but who’s to know what you are doing after logging in?
“Take my case,” she said. “I log in, start work, keep at it from time to time. Alongside, I shower, make myself a sumptuous lunch, at times take a catnap. But isn’t wasting time a part of the day’s work? So why are people assuming you are not working when you’re at home and going all judgemental on you — and be okay with it when you were doing exactly that while being seated inside an ‘official’ cabin?”
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