End of work from home will upset inclusive hiring, work-life balance

work from home, WFH
The companies that continue with work from home option are witnessing better attendance, lower absenteeism, and lower expenses compared with pre-pandemic days.

Work from home had become a new normal post pandemic, ushering in a major change in the way professionals worked and lived. But as the fear of the pandemic waned, companies have started asking employees to be back in office, even if for some days every week. IT majors TCS and Wipro are the latest to join this trend by asking employees to work from office.

It is evident that the trend of working remotely, which began due to the covid-19 pandemic, may not last much longer. It looks like the end of an era for employees who had found the evasive work-life balance by moving away from big cities for work.

As businesses seek to re-establish working patterns, there is wider acknowledgment of the flexibility work-from-home arrangement gave employees. The dream run may have ended for women and physically challenged employees who could join the workforce from the confines of their homes.

READ I Multidimensional Poverty: Niti Aayog report points to need for course correction

While the companies claim that they are working in good faith and for the sake of maintaining camaraderie and team spirit of connecting in person, not many may have found solace in the idea of returning to offices. The reason is that people have adjusted to the new normal.

Work from home has been a cultural inflection point as employees began to realise how century old notions of office hours and productivity were barely true. In fact, many companies reported higher levels of productivity with the flexibility of working from home. Employees are so enamored by the idea of remote work that a whopping 71% of respondents of a study said they can ditch a promotion any day for an opportunity to work from anywhere.

Inclusion of women in workforce

The most significant impact of the work from home arrangement is the inclusion of women in the workforce. However, the strides achieved in that front may be reversed should all employers want their staff back in offices.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also underscored the importance of work from home for women empowerment. He had also said that the country must ready itself for future needs on the labour front by provisioning for flexible work hours and workplaces to boost participation of women. This assumes significance considering India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates (LFPR) in the world.

Making WFH a legal right

Several countries have now moved to include work from a home in the legal framework so that even after the end of the pandemic, WFH becomes a legal right. This year in June, the Dutch parliament approved a legislation which will make it binding for employers to consider work from home requests as long as the profession allows it. The Netherlands is not the only country which has supported remote work. It is in a small but growing list of countries that have further extended legislative support to WFH. Earlier, Ireland had also introduced a similar legislation.

Companies are also considering hybrid work options as the pandemic made it clear that work can be done from anywhere. Research in the area has shown that employers who mention WFH in job listings receive better response from prospective employees. There are huge savings in terms of time wasted in commute.

Not all companies are in favour of a hybrid work structure with big names such as Tesla fiercely defending the need of being physically present at offices to get work done. According to a study by Microsoft, New Future of Work Report 2022, while many employers are weighing in the needs of employees and embracing hybrid work structure. The outcomes may still not to the extent that employees want them to be.

The study maintains that remote work and work place flexibility have become a key driver in an individual’s decision to join a company. The pandemic has clearly changed how employees perceive work-life balance. Conversations around wellness have also become a focal point, especially in a country which ranks miserably on the Happiness Index. India was ranked 136 out of 146 countries in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report 2022.  Striking work-life balance has remained a big challenge for employees which has been associated with high stress.

READ | Invisible workers: Durga Puja artisans face socio-economic deprivation

A Stanford economist recently said that working from home is fueling growth at companies across the globe. Several other studies have also supported the claim and found that 77% of workers reported increased productivity when operating remotely.

Employees in several multinational companies have staged protests as companies demand office work. Workers at AT&T recently started a change.org petition to make their company’s pandemic work-from-home policies permanent. iPhone maker Apple’s employees, upset with their company’s return-to-office orders, also recently launched a petition saying the company has risked stifling diversity and staff wellbeing.

Besides employee benefits, work from home culture has also helped organisations that have admitted to better attendance due to remote work. Absenteeism due to situations like rains, traffic etc have reduced and the employees are also happier working as they have been able to save up on time. Moreover, obligations to have an office space and then maintenance staff, providing travel allowance etc have also become a thing of past for the companies that have continued to allow remote work.