“Work from Home,” this term was associated with the top US companies at one time. Now, it’s a trend that is spreading like wildfire. India has not remained untouched from it. From startups to giant companies like IBM, Dell, Accenture, etc. every organization is offering work from home options to their employees. But does this system works for each employee and employer? Are there any side effects or its all bed of roses? We try to find it out.
Types of Work from Home Options
There are a few key models that are adopted by companies when they are seeking an employee who works from home or they give their own employees the ability to enjoy flexible working hours.
Full-Time Work from Home: In this option, a professional full-time freelancer is recruited by a company with an understanding that the person would be employed by a single company only. As confidential data is often shared with such an employee and trust is minimal at best, NDA’s are signed to ensure that no information is leaked. Hiring such freelancers is easy if one knows how to use websites like Upwork.com, Guru.com, Freelancer.in and WorknHire.com among others.
Partial Work from Home: This option is more prevalent in India. In this option, the office-going people are allowed to enjoy flexible working hours for a specified period of time. The specified timeframe differs from company to company. For instance, Infosys allows its employees the liberty of working from their house for 9 days every month while Cognizant offers the same option twice a week.
Work from Home Due to Special Circumstances: Some companies allow their employees to enjoy flexible working hour’s option for a few months or for a few days for special reasons. One example of this can be the recent cyclone Vardah that hit Chennai and forced the employees from major IT giants like HCL, Wipro, and Infosys to stay at their houses and put in required hours remotely. A more common example could be the provision of allowing women to put in the hours from the comfort of their house if they just had a newborn baby or have adopted a child. This option is offered by many companies, including the renowned consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers India.
No Work from Home
There are many organizations that cannot or would not allow the employees to enjoy flexible working hours. There can be various reasons for that. One reason is the confidentiality issue. If a person is working on sensitive data and using databases that cost thousands of dollars, that employee cannot be allowed to put in the hours from any other location than the secured office as the data might leak or the security of the company’s network may be compromised. Banking sector is one such area.
Organizations usually have stronger IT security than the IT security available at a person’s house. So, the chances of crucial data being hacked are lower while working from an office as compared to when one works from a house. This is the main reason why banking organizations rarely allow the work from home option.
Sometimes even Clients clearly ask for a No Work from Home policy due to IP issues. For example, pharmaceutical companies outsourcing their IT needs dictate the requirements of creating dedicated work spaces for their projects where even mobile phones with cameras are not allowed, let alone allowing working from home.
There are some types of jobs that have a job description in which the flexible working hours are not possible because the physical presence of employees helps in getting results. A prime example of such field is the retail sector where employees must be physically present to help the customer make the right decision.
Pros and Cons
Now that we have learned about many aspects of the flexible working option, let’s have a quick look at its major pros and cons that have been reported by employees and employers who have actually tried it.
Pros of Promoting a Work from Home Culture
The first benefit is the increased productivity of the employee as the employee gets to put in the required hours in a comfortable ambiance and has the freedom to put in the hours in his or her own space. Another benefit is saving time that would have otherwise been spent in commuting from one’s house to office. The third factor is employee happiness as an employee feels more in tune with the company that allows flexible options which boost retention and reduced attrition. Young mothers find working from their house an excellent boost to their career as they can’t leave their babies at home alone. This way, they don’t have to.
Another benefit is the huge cost savings attained by companies as the infrastructure costs and overheads come down when employees don’t need to come to office.
An employee working from home develops better time & task management skills. He or she can also take more fruitful breaks than a hit of coffee by talking to the spouse, playing with the dog, etc. It reenergizes the employee and boosts morale. Even the employee saves money on items like cost of buying formal attire, commuting, etc. The space an employee gets when no one is looking over the shoulder is also worth a lot for many workers, especially ones that have to think creatively and in peace. A recent survey conducted by Glassdoor found out that employees today give more importance to this flexibility than even salary, and is a major retention tool.
Cons of promoting a Work from Home Culture
While flexible working hours let the employees find a better work life balance, the distractions he/ she deals with are also far more complex than at office. For example, women in India are expected to cook if they are at home. Some workers feel more comfortable and productive when they can discuss a project or assignment with colleagues and hold brainstorming sessions in person.
A major side effect for the employers is that they cannot always know whether a person is working on a specific task or not. Though many companies use software to map in time and out time of a remote employee, the employer cannot be sure whether the employee is constructing a proposal or enjoying a nap. Employees who put in extra hours or extra effort may get unnoticed as the managers cannot see the employee working hard for a goal, and that may harm their performance incentives. Some people even do extra hard work while working from home and ruin their personal lives. People who are not present in office often miss the opportunity to work on a new project that’s being discussed informally in the office as they don’t get an email regarding that.
Communication gaps can be a big headache too. Sometimes a person just wants to talk to the manager before going forward with something and if the manager doesn’t respond for a few hours, the work suffers. Team management is also a complicated task when many members of a team are working from the comfort of their houses as they often don’t work the same hours due to family responsibilities. The quality of infrastructure available (think computer, internet speed, power backup) to an employee at the house is far lower in most cases than the one offered by the organizations.
It is a common perception that when one opts for working from their house, the person is lazy or is not doing real work. It often ruins the entire effort put in by a person. Sometimes, the colleagues or even managers often mock employees who avail this option. Similarly, the family members find it difficult to attune to that fact that a person is really working. They keep distracting the person by asking the person to do house chores. When the person refuses, they often get angry. Both types of perceptions can destroy the morale and self-confidence of the employee.
The Role of Technology
Technology is playing a crucial and leading role in making work from home a viable option. The availability and popularity of technological tools like Asana, Basecamp, Slack, Buffer, TimeDoctor, Google Sheets, etc. is a testament to that. These tools allow remote logins and track the time put in by the employees along with tracking the amount of work done in a day. The employer even has the power to set up targets for remote employees and track their progress.
Technological advancements are also helping the employers to make employees more productive by not letting them waste the time they could have put in for getting results. For instance, if a pharma sales employee (or any field agent) has the ability and freedom to report the progress of the work done by using software, he won’t need to come to the office during working hours and waste time in submitting the same report manually. He can use the time in generating more sales and report remotely when he reaches home. So technology is increasing efficiencies of regular employees and remote employees.
It is a fact that whether companies are in favor of developing a work from home culture or not, it’s a trend that’s taking over. As per the data shared by Global Workplace Analytics, in 2005, only 1.89 million employees chose working from their houses in the USA and this number shot to 3.26 million in 2012. This data proves that the new trend is gripping the world like a fever and most companies can’t stay away from it.
A smart choice would be to let the employees experiment with this new trend and let them be a judge of whether it works for them or not. Just remember to keep a close eye on every employee by using technological tools to ensure that the employees don’t fool you!!