A Work-from-Home Reality Check

A Work-from-Home Reality Check

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the biggest impact it left on the world was in terms of changing the traditional workplace in the tech-enabled industry. Remote work became the norm rather than the exception and many companies are now seeking to reverse it. However, recent studies in the US suggest that work-from-home may be here to stay. 

A recent study reported by USA Today notes that nearly a quarter of the American workforce could be operating remotely by 2025, a trend that may not get mirrored in the Indian context. Recent reports suggest that the hybrid work culture is getting institutionalized in the country in spite of the post-pandemic effects evaporating almost entirely. 

Hybrid models are gaining ground

In fact, last September there were reports of how large companies including ITC, Hindustan Unilever, Nestle, Pepsico, Tech Mahindra, Airtel and Swiggy were among those who followed a hybrid model. Of course, there were others like Dell who sought to get teams back to office by issuing memos that remote workers may have to forgo promotions. 

The latter trend could also be temporary as more companies could follow a variety of working models that ranges from fully remote to a hybrid one. A look at trends over LinkedIn suggests that more companies are becoming flexible on this front, and once the workforce sees this, the larger companies would follow suit to net quality talent. 

What is causing these changes now?

The current shift where companies are pushing people to show up in office relates to one single factor of the  job market turning employer-friendly. The worldwide economic slowdown caused by high interest rates is making jobs rarer and allowing employers to set the agenda for the moment. 

However, the survey notes a generational shift around work-life balance amongst the workforce which could pave the way for the next round of workplace rule changes, even if several head honchos actually want their teams in their line-of-sight. Here is what the study conducted via a poll survey of white collar workers in the United States found: 

At the moment about 22 million employed adults are working from home all the time, representing 14% of all the workforce. And over one-third of them, who have the facility of remote work, do so all the time while 41% option for a hybrid setup. Both these numbers show a clear penchant for flexibility in the workplace as a thing of the future. 

Based on the survey, the report notes that one in five Americans will be operating remotely by 2025 with 58% of all white-collar workers actually preferring to stay home at least three days a week. In fact, just 16% of these workers would consider a role that does not offer remote work. Wonder what Dell’s circular on missing promotions would say to this. 

However, there’s more as two-fifths of the workforce are happy to take a 10% pay cut if offered workplace flexibility of some sort while a third of the hiring managers are actually happy to offer it, given their belief that productivity levels went up when more people were working remotely.  

A real challenge or just a mindset?

Of course, CEOs are doing all they can to get people back to work with Amazon boss Andy Jassy even suggesting that things would not work out well for remote workers and Boston-based Wayfair furniture company actually handing out pink slips to remote workers compared to those who were in office. 

Some others like Elon Musk felt it was “morally wrong” to seek remote work when service workers had to show up while others like Micheal Bloomberg claiming that remorse workers were actually not working but playing golf and Salesforce boss Marc Benioff now blaming the work-from-home culture for “reducing productivity” among new employees. 

Is productivity up or down? 

In fact, another research paper discounts such protestations as an excuse to get workers back to offices for which the companies have invested heavily. A good percentage also felt that managers seeking constant control wanted teams to return to work though research from the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business this isn’t always true. 

“Our findings are consistent with employees’ concerns that managers use RTO (return to office mandates) for power grabbing and blaming employees for poor performance. We provide evidence that RTO mandates hurt employee satisfaction but do not improve firm performance,” the report said.

Work-life balance could be the key

In fact, some studies indicated that workers valued flexibility over location, which is a key indicator of how individuals valued a work-life-balance today. “… employees with some degree of flexibility over when and where they work, are reporting higher levels of employee engagement, ” says Karen Mangia, president at Engineered Innovation Group. 

India too has witnessed some shifts in the workplace preference in recent times as job openings for hybrid roles grew 40%, says a monitoring report Xpheno. However, such a shift does not really count against the total number of job openings, representing barely 15% of the total number. 

While this is the current reality, companies are tailoring their existing and new workplaces to support such models. Last year, PepsiCo redesigned their HQ in Gurugram with new tech and collaboration tools. Employees now have some flexibility in terms of the working hours as well as the days they go to work. 

Several global companies based in Bengaluru too are following this practice of allowing remote work to employees while they remodel their existing workplaces to encourage the hybrid work culture. By the look of things, such a move could have a favorable impact on three things – cost of office real estate, pressure on public transport and most importantly the Net Zero targets that businesses and countries have committed to achieve. 


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