Flexibility beyond COVID

A rough estimate by Avtar says that about 15 million white collar workers in India (approximately 40% of the total workforce including central & state government, public and private sector employees) are working from home today, as against the average of about 2.5 million workers (gig economy workers and others requiring special working arrangements), who do so everyday. 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 time. Change could be due to a new organisation, a new office facility, different work locations et al. Will we miss the old rituals? Of course. But, then, just the way we get used to new scenarios, we will automatically get into/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 –

  • Treat WFH seriously. Dress the part & keep to timings. There is a certain sanctity to treating that time at home, as real work for which you prep. 
  • Engage with your team. It is very easy to be cocooned in your work and forget that there is a team out there which works with you.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. If communication helped you at office, it is your lifeline at home. Err on the side of plenty and communicate with your boss more than usual. And of course, have a frank conversation with all your stakeholders at home – children, parents, spouse, extended family about your new work arrangement.
  • 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, realize that this could well be the new normal!

The Remote experiment

IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, HUL, PepsiCo, Dr. Reddy’s and a whole lot of organizations – both Indian and global – have rolled out work-from-home plans in the last few weeks. But for most of these companies, it is not something new. In fact 100% of all companies in the Working Mother & Avtar Best companies for women in India offer flexible working. Either as an employee welfare measure, a disaster recovery mechanism or as a business continuity plan, more than 80% of all large enterprises in India have a form of flex-working.
But, such is not the case for many 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%. The COVID situation has forced a number of organisations to uncover the practical side of flexibility. It has made many companies realise that WFH is possible. What it needs is some deep thinking, framework, policies, protocols and reporting guidelines to ensure that work is done seamlessly without disruptions. Avtar’s Flexcurity helps organizations unbundle jobs to reveal their flex-versions, as also flexidize them to map them against various different remote working options.

Good News for alternate talent pool

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 then had to contend with plenty of micro-iniquities. 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 organizational culture.

Around the world, there are 8 popular strands of diversity that organizations 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. Avtar’s research has shown that flexibility is a key career aspiration of the current corporate majority – millennials – both male & female. So 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 lakhs of Persons with Disability and the close to 5 lakhs of trained veterans (India data 2016), to contribute a whopping INR 14 billion to the Indian economy!

A modified version of this article had appeared in The Hindu on 25th March, 2020 – https://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/understanding-remote-working-againstthe-backdrop-of-a-pandemic/article31167368.ece

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