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Work from home is not working.

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When the COVID-19 lockdowns started and companies rolled out Work From Home (WFH) initiatives to keep the engines running, many were elated. This was what employees had wished hundreds of times. No pressure of rushing out of home, navigating traffic and punching in. Just don a formal shirt, comb out your hair, and join the zoom call. Five months into the situation, the novelty has worn off. WFH no longer seems to be the idyllic life-work balance everybody was touting it to be. A worldwide JLL research shows, employees are looking forward to returning back to work. Industry expert Anshul Jain, Managing Director (India and Southeast Asia), Cushman and Wakefield, had predicted WFH as a short term trend and said in a webinar conducted by Workplace Trends India Work, “Work From Home will gain strength, but that may be for just 10-15 per cent of the workforce.”

So, what’s happened in five months that’s making employees and companies clamour to get back into the office-going routine? Let’s see…

People-to-people contact is sorely missing

One of the biggest crusaders of ‘get back to office’ is Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, who, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, announced that “Twelve hours after a vaccine is approved” he will want his entire workforce back in office. “I don’t see any positives,” he said in that interview, “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”

In fact, most companies that had set a minimum of January 2021 to return to office, like Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, etc, are now expected to change the WFH time-frame to ‘back to office’ if required. 

It’s simply not a permanent solution

Just like Hastings, many company honchos have started having misgivings about the current trend of getting employees to work from home. For one, debating on ideas, the whole motivation of being together with other employees in an office environment, the energy required for productive team work is gone. As is the office as a social hub, especially for the young single employees who were motivated to come in, not only for brainstorming, but also for the coffee hangouts, the after work foosball, table tennis, a carrom games. More than the pandemic itself, it’s this new normal that’s become a disruption. As Neetish Sarda, founder, Smartworks, told Economic Times, “India is a service-based economy and the WFH can never be a permanent solution. Also, WFH arrangement doesn’t work for everyone – there are space constraints, technical glitches, and the overall ecosystem needs to be conducive for an employee to be productive.”

It’s costing the companies, too

Having to heavily invest in new forms of monitoring remote workers, as well as ensuring data security is costing companies big money. According to 451 Research, almost 80% organizations globally now have remote work policies in place, but only 67% of those are ready to make it a permanent solution. Cyber security is posing a big challenge, and it is predicted that data breaches may become the norm if companies rush into this model of working without an end-point IT security solution at hand. Also, per say, it’s almost impossible to secure remotely every worker’s cyber space because on an average, every household these days is connected to at least 10 internet-driven appliances. So, apart from the security of company-issued devices and VPNs, organizations also must worry about vector attacks from personal devices such as smart phones, gaming consoles, security cameras, routers, etc. 

The well-being of the workforce is compromised

Many employees are unable to accept this new normal. They feel lonely and demotivated, and say they are struggling to set work-life boundaries within their homes. Added to this, is worries about their jobs/career, feeling overworked and overwhelmed with the pandemic situation. Already medical journals report cases of backaches, headaches, and stress-related health issues being on the rise among the WFH employees across the globe. In India, 40% plus youngsters are working in IT /ITES back offices. These are long hour, routine workdays, which doing alone from home are far more tedious and dispiriting. 

‘WFH may not be impactful on a long-term basis’

In the wake of the current situation, Knight Frank India, a leading international property consultancy, did a survey (‘Work From Home (WFH) and the impact on Corporate Real Estate’) that gauged the employee mindset as well as the real-estate cost structure. The survey threw up some startling results: Nearly 90% of the respondents said they miss the office environment, and therefore, WFH was not what they thought it would be like. In the survey results, the NCR (98%) led the table of those missing office, followed by Mumbai (94%), Bangalore (91%), Chennai (90%), Pune (88%) and Hyderabad (81%). 

Not only that, 30% of employees opined their productivity has come down due to WFH, whereas 43% missed the office life with colleagues, and 42% said they couldn’t concentrate on work in the informal settings of their home. The other thing, as Sugata Sarkar, Senior Director – Consultancy & Market Research, Knight Frank India said, “This unique market research clearly indicates that despite certain conveniences sited for work from home arrangement, most employees miss office environment due to the benefits of communication and collaboration. So, without significant improvement, the real value of Work From Home arrangement may not be impactful on a long-term basis.”

New working trends may replace WFH

“If I had to guess, the five-day workweek will become four days in the office while one day is virtual from home. I’d bet that’s where a lot of companies end up,” opines Netflix’s Hastings. “Companies are exploring the ‘Work Near Home’ policy, and many may consider leasing smaller spaces at different locations instead of absorbing large areas. These trends will benefit the co-working segment,” says Neetish.

But whatever be the new solution, WFH seems to have lost its charm, already!

For more on the subject, read

1.    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says employees will return to offices when majority are vaccinatedhttps://www.theverge.com/2020/9/8/21426956/netflix-ceo-reed-hastings-return-to-office-vaccine-working-from-home-negative

2.    Netflix CEO on working from home I don’t see any positives

https://in.pcmag.com/news/137878/netflix-ceo-on-working-from-home-i-dont-see-any-positives

3.    Work From Home can never be a permanent solution: Neetish Sarda, founder, Smartworks

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/newsbuzz/work-from-home-can-never-be-a-permanent-solution-neetish-sarda-founder-smartworks/articleshow/77612620.cms

4.    Work From Home Is Not Without Security Costs

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/09/08/work-from-home-is-not-without-security-costs/#4fcd6a52610a

5.    Working from home isn’t for everyone

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/10/success/remote-from-home-improve-work-transformed/index.html

6.    JLL: Indian employees want to get back to office for this one reason https://www.jll.co.in/en/newsroom/indian-employees-want-to-get-back-to-office-for-this-one-reason#:~:text=As%20per%20a%20recent%20JLL,are%20fine%20working%20from%20home.

7.    JLL Survey: Workplace experience survey highlights

https://www.us.jll.com/en/views/workplace-experience-survey

Posted by: Ashwini Sharma

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