This article first appeared on Women’s Web as a featured post
Out of all the things that the covid pandemic has taught us, perhaps the one lesson that most nowadays are practicing is the ‘work from home’ culture. A shift that came as a result of the covid imposed lockdown; this mode of working seems to have today become the preferred work mode for many corporate employees. Long after the economy has opened and offices have commenced work full-fledged, we still see the impact of this on corporate recruitment. People continue to look for work options that are ‘off-site’ (https://www.businesstoday.in/interactive/longread/hybrid-jitters-why-employees-dont-want-to-come-back-to-office-104-25-03-2022) and this has prompted a large number of organizations to offer them inducements to return back to ‘on-site’ mode. The inducements are either monetary (in the form of increased pay) or are gifts or even offers for flexi/hybrid mode of working.
As a recruiter I find that women more than men are struggling to cope with this re-opening of offices. Let’s face it, working women pull a double shift in any case, don’t they? They have both the house and their office work to manage. Additionally, they bear the weight of expectations from both the family and their superiors because judgement is never ending. Saddled with a multitude of responsibilities, women need to discharge them all with an equal measure of competence – right? Being subpar is NOT an option!!
Working women who are single may not feel the weight of these expectations to such a crushing degree (but, they do have other onuses to carry!) as do wives or mothers. A married, working woman may have two shifts to work – the house and the office; but, a working mother is never off duty. Is that not so? A working mother pulls a triple shift because she has to manage the house, the office work and also needs to devote quality time to her children and family. This means that she is never ‘off’ work. Once back home from the office she merely transitions from one working role into another and her life plays on repeat mode, day after day, as if in a loop.
As a working mother, I do understand how the ‘work from home’ situation has been a blessing for many women. There are an increasing number of women who are still opting for a ‘work from home’ mode. But, their demand is being met with more than a few raised eyebrows. The questions are many – Will working from home bring down a woman’s productivity? Will not such a woman be more wrapped up in family affairs? Will it diminish her professional acumen or her capacity to contribute in the work space?
This leads us to ponder – is ‘working from home’ a step back for women the world over? Women have spent decades trying to break out of the shackles of patriarchy. They have fought for their right in the office spaces. They have fought for ‘equal pay’. They have fought for safer workplaces. So, reverting to ‘work from home’ would be akin to taking a step back, no?
Preetika Mehrotra, based in Hong Kong, is the founder of ManageUrHR. Her firm ensures that a client’s people practices are in line with their organizational vision from a growth and scalability perspective. She opines –“I spent 20 years in the corporate arena. In my last stint I was a director with Stanton Chase Executive Search in Hong Kong. Before that, I was the Head of Port Agencies for the Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) group. I have worked all my life. But, covid and the lockdown gave me the opportunity to re-assess my career goals. I was ready to step out of the corporate environment and back into being an entrepreneur. , I found the time to reassess my strengths. I had the skills to start my own venture. This realization has today translated into ManageUrHR. Today, I am my own boss and I work towards bringing women back into the workforce by offering them flexible/hybrid wok solutions. It’s win-win all around!”
Preetika’s is not an isolated story today. She is part of a change that is sweeping across the corporate world. In some cases, this change has stirred winds that have led to loss of jobs too. But, as more and more of the workforce continue to resist the idea of office confinement, companies are being forced to re-evaluate the manner in which they have always done business.
Preetika feels – “Covid has definitely changed the mindset of both management and leadership towards acceptance of remote working. The acceptance that yes, one can deliver great results and be professional even when working remotely, is now better since the same has been experienced due to the forced pandemic situation. It’s now a tried and tested model.” She adds – “I have to work remotely as I like to work in the Indian market even though I am stationed in Hong Kong. I truly believe that a good people’s practice can assist a start-up organization to build itself successfully. So, at ManageUrHR we work remotely to ensure value additions to our start-up founders. In today’s day technology has enabled this opportunity where this is a possible and is an effective business model.”
Like Peetika, there are many women that have woken up to their own self-realizations. For some, it has meant going back to office. But, for others, it has meant changing the way they have done things in the past.
So, what are the motivations behind this decision to work from home? Let’s take a look at some of the justified reasons.
- Mega saving on non-productive commute time – for many women, working form office means long commutes to work and back. This means that in a work week they spend a considerable amount of time on the road in a non-productive activity. And, the ensuing tiredness makes its effect felt both in office and at home. That further reduces energy levels. But, working from home eliminates this need for daily travel. Thus, women are able to spend more time with their family members.
Lakshmi Priya (Ell P)– Head, Client experience and coaching in a multinational investment bank and also soon to be an internationally published author, opines – “Prior to the lockdown, I used to spend close to two hours a day commuting to office and back. Not only was the commute lengthy but also it was tiring. Added to that were the woes of traffic snarls, weather hiccups and late sitting in office (at times). It was both mentally and physically draining and often left me with little ‘Me’ or ‘Family’ time. But, working from home gives me the extra time for myself. It has enhanced my productivity and has also significantly improved my work-life index. Additionally, I have more time to spend with my family. Now, I have time to take up interest-related pursuits. This was sorely lacking in my life earlier. Working from home has given me the opportunity to finish my debut novel and that is releasing in 2023. So, for me ‘work from home’ has been a godsend!! It has tremendously improved the quality of my life.”
- Major de-stress– for a large number of women the ‘work from home’ situation has translated into lesser stress.
Natasha Sharma is a Masters in Computer Applications. She works from home as a freelancer after a successful stint with an MNC IT company. She says – “When I was working from office, I had no control over the work assigned to me. The management controlled that and I worked on their deadlines. These deadlines often came at the cost of my family and child. It stressed me out to balance both, especially in the face of unreliable domestic help. The welfare of my daughter preyed constantly on my mind. Monday mornings were the worst!! But, being a freelancer gives me the flexibility to pick and choose assignments. Since I work from home now, I enjoy a greater quality of family life. I no longer stress about making it to office on time for a ‘Monday morning meeting’. Now, I have peace of mind and am in control of events.”
For Natasha, working from home translates into lesser earnings but also lesser stress. But, there are others for whom it has meant having greater disposable income. For a large number of the employed feminine workforce, working from office meant spending money from the pocket on not just the commute but also on purchasing formal apparel, cosmetics and other such tools that are often considered essential in the corporate setup. But, working from home negates the need for such expensive clothing or accessories and thus a small yet significant part of their income is added to the ‘money in hand’.
- Better work-life balance and time management– the balance in the work-life ratio has perhaps been the greatest boon for working mothers. Pre-covid a lot of mothers with infants or children, who left home early in the morning and returned late had to rely on nannies, maids or other stay-at-home help to cater to the needs of their children.
Sandhya Madan, a Masters in Information technology and a senior partner with Rian Placements at Hyderabad says – “I looked for an opportunity to work from home because I wanted to be the primary care giver for my 10+ year old daughter. Working from office would have meant that I would have had to leave my child to the care of a hired help and the thought especially during the covid waves was quite scary. Why expose my unvaccinated child to such danger? So, in that manner, ‘working from home’ has been a blessing for me because I am gainfully employed and I am also there for my daughter.”
Sandhya’s views are echoed by Archana Sonje, an Engineer by qualification and also a senior partner with Rian Placements in Mumbai.
Archana feels – “hybrid mode of working has given me the flexibility to adapt my professional life to the changing needs of my family. For years, I worked full time from office. Then, once my son started school, I opted for a hybrid mode. I would work from office for half a day and then pick my son up from school and continue my work from home. After covid, I shifted to full-time work from home. I have the flexibility now to start work late or work till late in the evening if I need to take time off during the day. Additionally, I can manage dropping or picking up my children to school, external classes or even play dates. ‘Work from home’ has been a major boon for me.”
In an era where companies are increasingly adopting ‘diversity and inclusion’ as their tagline, is it time for a more radical shift in terms of work spaces? Is it time to lay emphasis on the emotional needs of the workforce, be they women or men, rather than just the economic needs? Is it time that the corporate industry shifted their perspective from filling office spaces to filling staffing vacancies based on an evaluation not of empty seats but of skill sets and their contribution to enhancing profitability?
If the recent few months are any proof, then mindsets are definitely changing. Companies are adopting a more humane approach and are bringing back the ‘Human’ into the ‘Human resource’. Perhaps, this flexibility in our work style is just the motivation that we need to catapult our organizations into incremental profits. Wouldn’t you agree?
cover image – Forbes.com