Even as Yahoo CEO’s decision to ban ‘work from home’ has sparked off a global debate, tech firms in India continue with the practice.

Chetan Das, a 32-year-old IT professional at a top tax-consulting firm, feels that working from home is “disastrous”. He says that he is unable to concentrate and therefore, do justice to his work, owing to the many distractions at home.

“It would be better to have the weekend off rather than work from home, which is more demanding. There is no clear demarcation between work and home hours,” he says.

But others like Priya Deshpande, mother of a 6-year-old, says she would quit her job if she was forced to work only from office. “When technology like Internet and smartphones allow efficient work even from home, employees should be given the flexibility as long as the company targets are met,” she says.

The debate around work from home has come to the fore following Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to revoke the policy for her employees.

Conflicting interests

Most of those like Das, who had the opportunity to work from home, complained that it is more ‘work’ and less ‘home’, thus making their lives more stressful. “I end up working 20-22 hours per day. I wake up and switch on my computer first thing in the morning. I miss talking to my colleagues. Given a chance I would love to go back to work in an office,” said Debashish Mahapatra, a Bangalore-based IT professional.

This resonates with Mayer’s argument about workplace creativity. In the highly confidential Yahoo! memo which was leaked on Tuesday, the company said, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

But majority of workers prefer the flexibility of working either from home or office. According to a recent survey by Roger Half Technology, many workers now specifically look for remote working options when weighing new job opportunities. The survey asked 3,300 IT workers if having the opportunity to work outside the office was important to them when looking for new employment. Three out four workers surveyed indicated that it was.

Indian tech companies ratify this conclusion. Nandita Gurjar, Senior Vice President and Group Head of Human Resources at Infosys says, “We believe that we need to provide a reasonable amount of flexibility so that employees can take care of personal exigencies as well as be productive at work.”

The Bangalore-based IT major provides facilities such as satellite offices for expecting or new mothers, work from home options on a temporary basis, flexible work hours, part-time work policy among others.

“Our work from home policy enables working mothers with children below the age of 3 years to work from home twice a month. In addition we also have a work from home option for employees for parental care which they can avail once a month. We also have a flexible work hour policy in place where an employee can log remote work hours,” Gurjar added.

Mukul Bafana, Co founder, Jabong.com, says that working from home has now become a growing norm in India as it gives employees enough flexibility to work more efficiently. “To keep the motivation levels high and offer a bonding ground, we often organise team outings and celebration of big events in the office,” says Bafna. Jabong.com offers its employees two work-from-home days in a month.

Employees, mostly in metros, also often prefer working from home to save on time and expenses involved in travelling to work.

Surabhi Mathur Gandhi, Senior Vice-President of TeamLease Services, says though flexibility to perform non-core or non-critical functions from home allows organisations to manage their resources optimally, it has not yet extended to core functions especially in the IT and finance domains.

HR experts said that the effectiveness of the policy also depends on what stage of evolution an organisation is at. A startup or an organisation such as Yahoo! which needs to focus on re-inventing themselves and bring about innovation probably needs every single employee to work together closely to bring about innovation. But working from home might work for an established organisation on a steady growth path like an IBM. “One decision from Yahoo! should not actually be influencing organisations in India on how they should manage their workforce. One needs to keep in mind the fact that Indians by nature are more social and prefer having people around – at work or outside of work. Besides the social quotient, it actually helps build interpersonal relationships which become an essential component of one’s career development,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, Vice-President of Indian Staffing Federation.

Even multinational tech firms like Sapient think allowing flexibility in work timings help, though there should be checks to prevent misuse. “We allow them to work part time (in a day) or three to four days in a week, making it convenient for people juggling home-related work such as rearing kids and attending to emergencies. However, it comes with checks and balances so that the work and productivity are not affected,” Manika Awasthi Menon, Director (People Success) of Sapient, said.

CSC, the multi-national IT services company, feels that work-from-home is a viable alternative for employees to keep contributing to the organisation in times of need. “We have a global policy of tele-working, where an alternative work arrangement allows our employees to work part of their daily or weekly work schedule at a location other than a permanent CSC or client facility (example while travelling, at home, or at a multiple CSC client location),” Neelam Malhotra, Vice-President (HR) of CSC India, said.

Cutting down expenses

Apart from altruistic intent, work-from-home also allows companies to curtail overhead expenses related to infrastructure, power consumption and real estate.

Mayer’s decision for Yahoo! employees has made “work-from-home” a much-debated topic across the world. But in India a complete ban won’t work. As a recent LinkedIn study pointed out, about 85 per cent of Indian working women surveyed would like greater flexibility within the workplace.

priyanka.pani@thehindu.co.in

sneha.p@thehindu.co.in

kurmanath.kanchi@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 7, 2013)
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