What are the pros and cons of the Coronavirus induced work from home?

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on March 23, 2020

In the long-term, this will help open up many flexible options for employees, such as work-from-home, work from co-working spaces iStockphoto anyaberkut

As the Coronavirus pandemic rages across the globe insidiously, social distancing measures - particularly work from home - are being put in place to curb its spread. But, doubts about the efficacy of work from home lingers as the Indian economy, already on tenterhooks, braces itself for the inevitable economic impact of the outbreak.

Despite these concerns, companies cutting across sectors like information technology, media organisations and automotive have resorted to instituting mandatory work-from-home or remote work policies as social distancing reduces the chances of the spread of the virus.

BusinessLine spoke to human resources (HR) experts to gauge if and how work from home affects productivity, and how it can be leveraged at a time of crisis.

While the extent of productivity that working from home can bring about depends on the kind of industry and the nature of work, proactive and positive engagement with employees, as well as the trust factor, play an important role, according to Nicolas Dumoulin, Managing Director, Michael Page India.

“Trust works both ways - you need to trust your employee, and your employee needs to trust that you have trust in him or her. To do so, it's important that you have a clear understanding of what the expectations are, and what needs to be delivered. You need to, as a person working from home, take accountability for it and make sure you communicate,” said Dumoulin.

From a manager’s perspective, he/she has to ensure constant and proactive engagement for the productivity to be sustained, he said.

For instance, at Michael Page - which has also enforced work-from-home - it follows a ‘team huddle’ or a video conference call every morning, wherein a sense of community, team ownership and a common objective is created, he said. This is followed up in the evening to discuss what the learnings and achievements of the day were.

Kunal Sen, Managing Director, India, RPO and Professional Search, Korn Ferry, was of the opinion that working from home does affect the productivity of employees to some extent, which he said can be corroborated by ‘regular performance conversations with managers’. But, he also pointed out that most companies are enabling technological or remote working capabilities, like advising employees to take their laptops or other portable equipment home or asking IT staff to help employees set up remote connections at home or on their personal computers. They are also encouraging video or audio conferencing meetings or phone calls in lieu of face-to-face meetings at this time, he added.

“How do you engage proactively is something which really determines the success of work from home - you will need to proactively engage with your people if you are managing a team, probably several times a day. This is not to check up on them entirely - but just to go through what is happening, what are the positives, and sharing information just to create a little bit of sense of connection between people, which you would automatically have if you work in an office,” explained Dumoulin.

In the wake of the Coronavirus spread, IT company Wipro has asked its employees across the globe to work from home wherever feasible and if their role permits them to. “We are leveraging extensive virtual collaboration capabilities, video conferencing and messaging platforms to ensure that work is unaffected, and the environment remains safe,” said a Wipro spokesperson.

The spokesperson cited several studies which show that people who work from home are more productive. “Having said that, for over extended periods, there is also the risk of isolation and missing out on creativity which is often spurred by social interactions,” the spokesperson cautioned.

In the long-term, this will help open up many flexible options for employees, such as work-from-home, work from co-working spaces, working in staggered shifts to avoid busy commute, working in staggered meal times to avoid congestion, as well as working from smaller distributed offices, said Sen. “We can think about the current situation as a crisis or as an opportunity to explore all these and many more new possibilities,” he added.

Published on March 22, 2020

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