Not a win-win situation — why we should not work from home after the Covid-19 lockdown

Not a win-win situation — why we should not work from home after the Covid-19 lockdown

Companies adopted work-from-home policy to contain the spread of coronavirus but the lack of a boundary between work and home can impact family dynamics.

Representational Image | Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg

Representational Image | Photo: Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg File photo

Working from home these past few weeks as the coronavirus pandemic rages on outside hasn’t been hunky-dory. Yes, physical distancing is important and I absolutely wouldn’t advocate otherwise, but having my bed just inches away from my workstation hasn’t been the win-win situation I thought it would be.

It wasn’t long after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic, companies around the world took their work home. In India, Cognizant, Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Uber, Ola, Swiggy, Paytm, Wipro and Tech Mahindra were among the first companies to institute the work-from-home policy.

This measure became the need of the hour for other companies in India too as the nation went into a 21-day lockdown. Reports have since come out that say this policy will lead to a seismic shift, “ushering in a new era of work from home”.

I hope this is not the case.

In 2014, Harvard Business Review published a study conducted on two groups of call centre workers at a company, with one group working from home and another commuting to office over a period of nine months. Although the survey found that the former group was more productive and even happier, the researchers were still in favour of employees working only for one or two days a week from home.

This is mainly because a perpetual state of work from home poses a host of challenges to both employees and employers.

Also Read: Shops open on alternate days, schools shut — states want to phase out lockdown after 14 April

Working from home blurs role

With the domestic space now also functioning as a workplace, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a work-life balance. The lack of physical boundaries between the two otherwise separate environments impacts both the work as well as family dynamics. Experts have described this phenomena as “role blurring”, which is “the experience of confusion or difficulty in distinguishing one’s work from one’s family roles in a given setting in which these roles are seen as highly integrated, such as doing paid work at home”.

Researchers Paul Glavin and Scott Schieman studied workers in the US and found that higher levels of “role-blurring” was associated with more work-life conflicts, especially among those with high job pressure. This claim is difficult to dispute. Working from home in a constantly demanding job, I’ve had a difficult time completing tasks outside of my work since I have to remain available all the time. This has also led to higher anxiety and more sleepless nights.

But the “role blurring” has consequential effects if you are living with your family. Recently, a friend who works in a consulting firm told me that several women employees were especially more concerned about the work-from-home set-up because it posed a hindrance to their work. Researchers Heejung Chung and Tanja van der Lippe in their study on Flexible Working, Work–Life Balance, and Gender Equality’ show that at-home women workers are expected to take up more domestic work than men. In a rigidly patriarchal society like India, this could have a drastically regressive effect on gender roles and lesser women would then perform well or even continue working.

Also Read: Central govt staff can work from home during lockdown, but will have to follow these rules

Indian infrastructure an issue

Indian companies are not built to adapt work-from-home policy, particularly because of their infrastructural costs. A large number of employees don’t have proper workstations at their homes, let alone WiFi. This is why the lockdown left companies scrambling to provide resources to their employees. In fact, internet service providers witnessed a major spike in the demand for dongles as companies made bulk purchases. Several also had to rent out laptops for their employees and there was an increase in sale of laptops since more people started remote working.

While companies had to account for such unexpected costs, its employees now have to pay more on electricity and even food in some cases. What otherwise would fall within the infrastructural cost of the company, now has to be borne by employees like me who are confined in their houses. And if you’re worried about your diminishing net income, the perpetual tech problems that could follow because of this crude setup might make a pay hike or promotion all the more elusive.

It’s a difficult truth, but one that had to be told. India Inc. is not ready for a work-from-home model. And any plans of extending it beyond the current situation would only result in severe societal and economic implications.

Views are personal.