The outbreak of Covid-19 forced governments worldwide to impose lockdowns and shutdowns which in turn locked down and shut down several work places with many being given the mandate to work from home and not physically be present at the work place. The fear of endangering one’s own life and that of others was too real to ignore.
‘Work from home’ was not a much known concept for most of India until March 2020. Though the corporate world was acquainted with working from home, the rest of the job goers weren’t as familiar. A larger part of India being agrarian farmers, daily wage labourers, government office bearers and the business class, work from home was often considered a privilege of the corporate sector. And so while corporate India switched from ‘work from office’ to ‘work from home’ with relative ease and clarity, the rest of the working class was left at crossroads, with many being shown the exit doors forever and others wondering what it exactly meant.
Slowly and surely, a few other sectors caught up with the new normal called ‘work from home’.
Be it in India or elsewhere in the world, ‘working from home’ seems to entail unimaginable luxuries extended to job holders on a platter. That must mean lazy mornings, late night TV shows, more family time, less travel, saved leaves, working from the comforts of home, breaks as often as one wishes and of course more me-time. A treat of a lifetime (hoping that Covid-19 is the last pandemic of all times)!
Though the picture seems rosy and tempting, it surely is not so – at least not for everyone. The mandate of working from home brought out many hurdles in its smooth implementation for all stakeholders.
Not everyone is blessed with decent residential apartments. For the many who live with their families in single-room spaces, having to work from that very same place surely isn’t a welcome mandate. And for those with spacious homes, exposing parts of their homes to lesser known colleagues proves nothing less than inviting intrusion into one’s privacy.
And then for parents, working from home is highly challenging with kids interrupting work every now and then or zoom-bombing during meetings and presentations, leaving parents embarrassed and sorry.
Digital technology has literally kept the world afloat these last few months. Not all would agree to this with ease! I have known people who didn’t own laptops or desktops before the lockdown, simply because they didn’t need to. With the sudden imposition of lockdown and orders to work from home, they spent frantic days trying to borrow them. With shops closed, buying wasn’t an option. Working for long hours using smartphones wasn’t feasible beyond a few days. To top it all, percolation of internet connectivity to all areas and weak signal strength are two major hurdles that interrupt work.
For many job holders, going out to work is an escape from the home environment – be it in because of abusive family members, nagging children, unending household chores, or the sheer boredom of familiar spaces and people. Many people find their me-time not at home, but outside home, often while travelling to and from work or in the office cafeteria. Endless days of work from home with no avenues for change is surely punishing.
To talk of those who do not hold jobs outside, tolerating the constant presence of the usually absent family members has been quite challenging.
So you see, ‘work from home’ is not that goody goody!
While people working from home desperately wanted to breakfree and come out, those working from their job spaces were equally desperate for breaks during the lockdown. With only emergency services operational, we had overworked medical and administrative personnel almost everywhere with no respite in sight.
With performance demands running high, tempers seem to run high as well. Having been one among the ‘work from office’ people with all holidays cancelled, the frenzy of endless activity with oscillating emotions all around were everyday normals for me. Working from the workspace and returning home after the day’s work is what each office goer either craved for or dreaded. Those away from home stations were the ones who craved for it, while those stationed in home towns dreaded the thought of returning home as carriers of the virus.
With things creeping slowly to normal, we are now aware what to expect from situations in future.
‘Working from home’ in normal times is either occasional or one’s personal choice for extended times. And so, it never brought out the hurdles as the imposed ‘work from home’ in 2020 did. Similarly, work spaces were not that obstructing in normal times, as the no-home, no-leaves work demands of the lockdown-shutdown phases did.
We can best vouch for a work culture with mixes of both forms of work in normal times. After all, you cannot have the luxury of settling down on your couch and stretching yourself a bit with a cup of coffee or a glass of juice at your work space! As for future emergencies as in the present situation, we better be digitally prepared!