A couple of days ago a friend of mine sent me a message saying, “I’ll call you once I am free from WFH”, I kept wondering WT*#@ is WFH? But I held my horses and when she called I inquired what the new abbreviation means? She replied, “work from home”. I was enlightened.
In the times of global lockdowns work from home or WFH has become the buzzword with an overwhelming number of professionals trapped inside their pigeon holes (homes) fixing their gaze on a variety of screens and tapping their fingers on various keyboards.
Actually these are the two organs in the body that are in overuse these days. Experts are becoming hysterical about the new global trend and how it will define the new age working in the post-COVID19 era. Some say this is the way society will work from now on and the others say the trend will fizzle out once the offices open and we gain some kind of herd immunity against this contagion.
These enthusiastic but extreme positions notwithstanding let’s further explore the unfolding future in some details:-
A whole lot of people are finding work from home an unmitigated disaster, a veritable torture chamber with no respite. Like Salman Khan, the super star from Mumbai film Industry, said, “staying home is like being in a Big Boss Home with no one being ejected out (sic).”
Many professionals say they are working more than they used to in the office. Most of the bosses and especially the immediate line managers are breathing down their neck and don’t let them ease through the day. Mailing at odd hours and messaging and calling late till night under the pretext, “you are at home, why can’t you work?” quip. They forget the worker is also a family person. She needs to spend some time with her family, cook, clean utensils, broom and swipe the floors and wash clothes. Even when she gets some help from family members its still a time consuming task.
There was a primary school teacher in a reputed school who told me that she was asked to make videos for kindergarten students. For this all the teachers were asked to conduct a day review meeting at 10 pm every night regardless of Sundays or Saturdays. When she said the kids won’t watch the videos unless the parents sit through the entire session with them, she was overruled. When the first class began the parents opened the laptop or connected their smart TVs and put their children in front of the screen and left to do their own office work and lo and behold the children just got up and left. When their wards were asked to sit through the entire class they resented it and protested. This was an additional duty along with their pile of work that they had to do from home.
Then there was a class teacher from a senior class who marked students absent as they failed to login at the appointed time.
This behavior of senior class teacher, kindergarten principle and line managers in corporate shows a deep-rooted problem of persistent lack of managerial skills and difficulty to accept change.
In the time of lockdown and global pandemic most of the managers and senior functionaries in every sector especially in the education and services sector have exposed their complete incompetence and a total lack of emotional intelligence compounding an already precarious situation.
Listening to these stories makes you feel that most of these senior managers almost feel resentful that people are not in office. And if they are at home they must be having fun, so now it’s their divine right to make their life miserable.
But people are not staying at home out of choice, its government order. And it’s no fun and game. Everyday is a struggle as their support staff — the maid, the home delivery of grocery and cooked food, and many other services are shut. Also the home doesn’t have the kind of technically updated facilities as are available in the office and the net speeds have suffered notoriously during these times. These are not normal times and you just can’t pile up work with scorn that, “but you are at home na…so what’s the big deal”. Hell it’s big deal and get that straight in your head you pig-head.
It fails to make any sense why kindergarten teachers should work for eight hours everyday and have a meeting at 10 in the night. Why should people in other sectors who are working from home need to slave for 12 to 14 hours. The worst threat is, “if you don’t want to work there are many who are ready to work for 24 hours a day at half the price so FO.”
This stressful and humiliating experience for many will make them shudder to return to WFH.
HRM should stop HRM
Human Resources Managers (HRM) everywhere now need to step in urgently to stop this human repression and madness (HRM). A clear policy guideline should be made and strictly enforced in every sector of the economy. The government should also make changes in labour laws to safeguard the sanity, long term productivity and dignity of the worker or employee.
To begin with they should take a leaf out of the French law that forbids employers to call their employees after office hours. Office hours need to be defined strictly. If it’s an eight hour or ten hour shift then some one who starts at 8 am will leave the terminal at home at 4 pm or 6 pm. The office can only call the person if the heavens are falling and the employee alone can save it. Otherwise please wait till the next day.
Keeping a moment to moment tab can’t work. The person should be given a task that’s doable in a day and a report be taken at the end of the day that’s it. Don’t behave life a stereotype mom-in-law or an atrocious landlord of yore. Even while giving a task the IBM’s “minimum expectation rule” should be followed. When the company was an “800 pound gorilla”, as Tim Ferris says, during their heydays, they gave their sales forces a minimum target to achieve because they never wanted the salesman to be so stressed by the target that they won’t pick up the phone. So when the sales force knew about their low targets everyone approached their work without stress and achieved it. A large majority almost invariably exceeded the targets in excess, beating the competition hollow.
Third thing that the HR manager should ensure is the middle managers or the line managers should have a life. Even if they are tight assed SOBs they should be encouraged to have one and if they still persist with their cussed ways they should be told in no uncertain terms not to mess with others’ quality time.
If these three things can be ensured then the future of WFH looks bright.
Pregnant with Potential
Looking beyond the apparent incompetence of managers and employers the mass scale of work from home has opened up a world of great opportunities. People with a decent technological backup of high speed internet, camera, sound studio and laptop or desktop and one or two phone connections can now work from anywhere and everywhere. This crisis has helped in breaking the initial mental barriers that arose due to legacy issues. For example, the need for people to be present physically for an interview can and should give way now that a large chunk of workforce has learned the art of talking on video conferencing and other online video chat platforms. The need for physical presence for meeting can also be reduced to a minimum.
Another bold new vistas opening up is of remote working. People from remote areas and small towns with requisite qualifications can work for companies from the comforts of their own homes and their own towns without ever setting a foot in the big cities. They may still be called for a physical appearance one or twice a year but not more.
But care needs to be taken to compensate them adequately. You can’t hire a top class human resource and pay them pittance just because the person is working from Dumka and not Delhi. Yes you may rationalise the pay by 10 to 15 percent but not more than that. Competence, consistency, integrity and sustained quality of work should decide the pay of the person not her location and the cost of living.
Apart from this many people working in the office can also seek a permanent WFH to move to cooler climes, quieter places or may travel to remote locations and still be engaged for a certain time throughout the week. They should be given weekly tasks that they need to complete. If they can finish it early they get to enjoy an extended weekend and do whatever they want to. This way companies will not only be able to retain a lot of their good resources but also engage new ones too.
It will open up a new pool of talent from diverse locations, with diverse cultures and diverse perspectives making the workforce and workplace a true melting pot of cultures and capabilities. This would be a new face of globalisation that’s based on earthly local flavours.
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