THE ‘WORK FROM HOME’ TRAP

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Work From Home (WFH) has been the biggest corporate find of the pandemic. So much so, that Working From Office (WFO) almost seems alien now. The two plus years of WFH has set in an inertia that will be tough to break. Not just because it has become a habit; more because it is so much cheaper and convenient for employers. They can now de-hire offices, cut administrative staff and save on transportation. They can also slash cafeteria expenses, electricity bills and so much more.

Employees also do not seem to be in any hurry to get back to WFO for an equal number of reasons . No compulsion to get out of bed (or out of pyjamas) early. No need to see the boss’ mug and spoil the day, ease of turning off the audio or video during meetings, snacking and drinking coffee all day while pretending to work. In general, enjoying the indiscipline to the hilt.

Thankfully, schools and colleges are not run the same way or else schooling, as we know it, would have come to a tragic end. School children, by the way, are thrilled to get back to their classrooms after an initial ‘readjustment crisis’. And needless to mention, so are their parents.

But let’s get back to the WFH phenomenon. Is it here to stay? Perhaps in some areas and situations where there is no necessity to cooperate or collaborate in person. Now how boring would that be, days on end? There is a new animal in the corporate jungle that takes its name from Hybrid Warfare, Hybrid cars and the like. It is the Hybrid work format, which means sharing your time between home and office depending on how ‘Hybrid’ the employer wishes to be. My hunch is that it will gravitate towards a lion’s share of WFH for reasons outlined earlier and that would have consequences.

Firstly, it would terribly impact the privacy and independence of a ‘home’, as it already has. If a home was meant for work, it wouldn’t be called a home. The employer must understand that not everyone in his employee’s home is his employee. Each person in a home is entitled to his or her freedom to do what they like without the wife worrying about the blender whirring in the background, the mother’s banter with the housemaid about rising prices of tomatoes or a five year old playing ping-pong on the dining table that doubles up as daddy’s WFH desk, all while the employee conducts marathon meetings online.

Secondly, it promotes a much greater degree of gadget fixation. With almost all activities possible online today, we spend almost the whole of our waking lives on some smart device or the other. WFH will not help matters.

Thirdly, the employee is on a 24×7 electronic leash. Working hours have become completely flexible with WFH. If you have an Internet connection, you are at work night and day with the only saviour being your ability to say ‘no’ to meetings or work beyond reasonable hours. And that is a rare quality in today’s ‘hire and fire’ workplace.

Finally, we will lose the comfort, benefits and joy of human contact. Physical removal from the work environment is essential for other human pursuits. There must be a ‘Work/Home’ toggle switch that automatically switches with a departure from office. A WFH ‘logout’ is not quite the same besides having the pitfalls mentioned earlier. Human and social skills take time to develop and we will end up losing these skills if WFH does not give way to an early return to WFO.

The pandemic had locked us in for the right reasons. We must not remain locked in for the wrong reasons. Step out…reclaim your lives.

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