It was 2010. I had just shifted to a new city in order to take up a new job. The commute from my home in a middle class locality to my office in the heart of the city took the better part of an hour. I had to first walk from my house to the Metro station, then take the train to the Metro station near my office and then, walk from the station to the office, around half a kilometre away.
When in office, there would be no fixed time for tea breaks and meals. We would somehow make room for a quick break for tea or coffee and usually eat our meals at our desks, late at night. The office cafeteria had a menu that lacked imagination and was repetitive.
At the end of the day, we would huddle around outside the office building, waiting for office transport to drop us back home. It would be 12.30 p.m. or later by the time I would reach the colony gate, constantly looking over my shoulder while hurrying down the few odd metres home, in a city notorious for crimes against women.
This continued for a good two years. The same walk from home to Metro station to office and the drop back home after midnight. I would spend precious time, energy and money on avoidables, and risk my safety, on a daily basis. So, it is with enthusiasm (and mild envy) that I welcome the ‘Work From Home’ concept, spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the stark reality is that corporates, tech firms and media houses would not have taken this step unless forced into a corner and left with no other option. Now that we know that a majority of people have adapted so well to WFH, it is time to look at the immense benefits of this once involuntary but now effective work option.
When you work from home, you save money and time and precious energy. Money through saving on the daily office commute and food bought at overpriced cafes, time while doing the same (or more) amount of work from a relaxed home setting and energy in not having to prepare for stressful meetings which are rarely productive and avoiding the unpleasant task of the ego-management of seniors and colleagues.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s chief executive said at a conference in New York in May 2021, “Working from home does not work for everyone, especially those who want ‘to hustle.'”
I wonder what Dimon really meant… Is his statement an acknowledgement of the avoidability of the daily commute, in crowded public transport and something which becomes a drag in no time? Is he pointing towards the futility of sitting in an office chair for around 8 hours, trying to achieve work targets which take half the time (or less) in a WFH setting? Is his statement also perhaps prompting us to question whether the self-doubt that defines most employees’ interaction with their colleagues — junior, senior and others — is really necessary?
After all, if you can work as efficiently from the comfort of your home for the same (or lesser) number of hours that you do at the office, sans the tedious commute to work and the questionable wisdom of a late night ride back home; if you can save money and prevent minor health problems by eating fresh, home-cooked food, at a time of your choosing; if you can focus completely on your work and not have to worry more about being in someone’s good books than doing your work professionally, would you not do it?
A study by Stanford University that monitored around 500 employees in China’s largest travel agency for two years found that working from home increased productivity by over 20 percent. That’s equal to one extra working day each week.
Among the factors that contribute to the growing popularity and mounting acceptance of the WFH concept are a chance to achieve a better work-life balance, increased productivity, the option of remote working leading to more talent retention and an overall readiness to welcome work and do it more efficiently when the hours are flexible and not fixed.
It is easy to attribute the success of WFH to a new generation of employees (go ahead, blame the Millennials for every big or small change in the world these days..). It is not that easy to account for its continued traction and increasing acceptance among workers of all age-groups and many diverse industries.
Yes, it is a godsend for women, and I, for one, admit to its numerous plus-es without any hesitation.
But WFH is here to stay, since it applies to all employees, irrespective of their gender. In the process, it deals a body blow to the daily urban commute in crowded public transport, keeps the money spent on meals at costly restaurants and cafes in your wallet, makes work much safer for women who work the night/graveyard shift and leaves you with a deeper appreciation for life and that it is not ‘productive’ only when you are at work.