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ID:	189 Working from Home - Myth or Reality

Trrring! Trrring!’ rings your alarm clock and now your mobile at 8:00 AM. You suppress your feelings of wanting to throw the alarm out of the window, and sleepily head to the shower to quickly get ready for office which begins at 9:00 AM. You spend close to 30 minutes in traffic and rush to your workspace only to find that you are 15 minutes late and the all-important meeting has already begun.

The toil has begun for you; just as it has for millions around the world.
Telecommuting is a concept that dates back to the 1970’s but has increasingly gained popularity over the last 20 odd years. It refers to a work arrangement in which employees do not commute to a central work place. Rather, they work from home with help of advancing technology that enables them to do so. This term was coined by Jack Niles in 1973. (Source:Wikipedia)
An ideal telecommuter
Literature suggests that the model telecommuters own the ability to work independently without continuous monitoring. They have excellent verbal and communication skills and has the ability to solve problems individually.

Also, they are usually proven players with strong past job reviews and are goal oriented and organized. They usually share great trust levels with their supervisors and are willing to share information with their team members. They always make it a point to keep their peers and managers updated on the progress of their work. Also, telecommuters are generally methodical and clearly document their work.

We have seen that telecommuting brings in a lot of cost benefits to the organization and gives more freedom to the employee; but could there be another angle to it too?

The Flip Side
An employee who works from home would firstly find it great to be able to spend time at home without compromising on work. But in time, he/she could experience lethargy. Come to think of it, office is not just a place where people work as machines; it is a pace where people form friendships, a lot of societal exchanges happen and in general, a lot of attachment happens. These informal bonds are what go on to build great cooperative teams. And increasingly we find that employees need that kind of a social circle where they can openly discuss issues – be it official or personal.

Also, it is a known fact that when employees work together as teams, a lot of give and take happens; we see people helping each other in work – an individual working from home would miss out on all this.

Also, for some it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. And these applies to bosses also. If a new project/task came up, it is more likely that they would give it to an employee whom they see daily, say in the elevator or the wash room; just because that person’s face might have been the first to come to their mind. Again, we see that the telecommuters are at a detrimental position despite being highly productive employee.

Another factor we need to consider is the sensitivity of the employee’s family and society in general. The society generally tends to underestimate a person who works from home. Somehow there is this impression that ‘work from home’ means part time work or unimportant work. There is a lot of catching up that the society in general has to do.

Now all these factors put together, could make the telecommuter feel isolated from his employer. The work he would do could become highly transaction barren of any emotional commitment or immaterial bonds.

Have companies embraced this concept of telecommuting?
In a recent survey by Aon Hewitt – ‘Employee Preference Study 2013’ which covered 7000 employees in different organizations across the country, one in three employees ranked ‘flexi-work arrangements’ as one of their top preferences.

Several companies like CISCO, HSBC, P&G, Mahindra & Mahindra, Citibank and PwC are using this tool of giving ‘work from home’ option to their employees as a key retention and motivating device. This is a benefit for working mothers who have put in a lot of effort to build their careers. Male employees too welcome this option, because they say this gives them an opportunity to spend more time at home with their children and family. Some others feel, this option enables them to run tasks like visiting banks or any Govt. offices as these remain open only during the work days and that too during fixed hours.

But some other companies haven’t been as open to this idea. Yahoo.inc was one of the first few companies to have accepted telecommuting but recently, its new CEO Marissa Mayer decided to discontinue the ‘work from home’ policy as she felt that in-person meetings enhances the quality of decisions and business ideas. She argues that some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, brainstormings , meeting new people and spontaneous team meetings. She says, “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” But, this decision has met with enormous discontent among its employees

Mayer’s decision finds support from Saurabh Govil, HR Vice President, Wipro who believes that productivity could get hindered if one works from home as in India, most employees do not have separate offices in their homes. Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP, HCL Technologies repeats similar anxieties as she says that extended family members have very little understanding that working from home is equal to working at office and this could harmfully affect productivity.

Looking ahead
Telecommuting does have its pros and cons but I believe, it is a spectacle that is here to stay. The context is always important; and the nature of a job should be thoroughly studied before deciding whether it requires working at office or not. Telecommuting is a benefit employees give a lot of value to, and by careful thought, companies can design appropriate salary packages.

NB: With the horrific traffic conditions of Bangalore (which is worsening day by day), working from home is a food for thought.
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