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Is a good “work from home” policy viable for your SME business

Work from Home – the new workplace trend

We have seen it all – in terms of the office trends that is. The team-events, outings, ethnic-days, all-hands-meets, CSR, Flexible working hours, Office transport and even Day-care in the office. The HR managers have come up with new flavors for the various seasons past. And they deserve a pat on the back definitely for all of that. This has helped set a workplace culture in India Inc that has led to a vibrant and productive workforce that has thrust the Indian IT sector right at the forefront of the map. But this is a game that never stops. Life evolves and as to humans. Our cities get crowded and the traffic woes are enhanced. The work-load increases and hence the work-hours. What is a new set of challenges has been met with an innovative solution. Something that could not have been thought-of even a decade ago. That is the boon of “work from home” or “remote working” option as it is called. This we think is the single-most crucial trend to be reckoned with for the future workforce. And the companies that embrace and innovate on this aspect shall stay ahead of the curve in future.

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Concerns regarding work from home arrangements

We have to understand that this arrangement is after-all a drastic step from the entrenched norms of past. The previous generation may not even understand and trust the arrangement ever. I mean how can they believe that people will ever get any work done from the comforts of their homes. Some of them start to get an understanding of the same as they observe their kids turn out work from the comforts of their homes using the internet VPN.

But the concerns are legitimate. Would the person be as productive and committed when they are not being supervised. What about the quality of work they turn up. There are no people to solicit advice from after-all when the doubts arise. At least not in the physical vicinity. What if the internet fails. the speed required for such an arrangement is sometimes just not available in certain parts of the town. And all these issues need a deeper understanding from the HR and they need to come up with comprehensive plans and options in respect to these.

The “Productivity” question for remote working

Let us start with the first concern. Managers would be concerned that the employees may be very distracted when they work from their homes. There is the television and movies. There are of-course the friends, spouses and kids in the vicinity. So how is a person supposed to be focused on their work in a remote working arrangement from home.

Well, let us begin with a little negative bit of an argument first. The distractions are also present in the office if you think about it. Any employee works among other employees. And it consumes their energy to make those active and passive interactions all the time. There is “water cooler conversation”, tea-time gossip and the odd animosity among the employees. There is office politics and also sometimes too much leisure time. Your employees may sit at their desk all day, but it is no guarantee for their focus and commitment. For all you know, they may be staring at the screen shopping or browsing online. The mobile phone is also an ever-present ubiquitous universal distraction. I do not intend to paint a dull and negative picture about your employee’s work-ethic and commitment, but these are normal human behavioral traits that cant be wished away. The point is that it is ultimately your employees’ self-commitment and work ethic that drives their performance. And if they are motivated and serious, over a middle to longer term, they shall deliver the same results on their own irrespective of the distractions.

I would go one step further. Any good employees you have would actually be grateful for the freedom that you afford to them. They may go that extra mile to reciprocate your favor. Also, there is a likelihood you shall as a manager continue this arrangement if their performance does not slack. And some of these hard-working folk actually work better alone. Hence, their productivity may enhance eventually if they have the freedom to work from their own den. Creative people definitely fall under that bucket.

“Transportation” woes in metros

It is no secret that people hate traffic-jams. And all the major metros in the world are replete with those. All the time. Hence, it is a significant boost to morale if you let people dodge that one by helping them create their own workplace schedule. This involves both being able to work from a remote location and having a flexible working schedule. It is actually a very simple solution if your employee is an individual contributor. They do not need to attend any meetings then and can work alone. It also helps reduce road congestion and environment hazard. These are important themes for a thriving society. If your employee drives to work themselves, it shall definitely affect their efficiency in the long run. The noise related stress they experience on the road also contributes to their stress levels on a daily basis. Hence, it is a much fresh and raring-to-go personnel you get if you allow your employee to work remotely from their home. Studies have indicated all of the above findings.

“Cost saved” for the company from “remote working” arrangements

There is a lot of money to be saved if you decide to have a sizable chunk of your work-force to work from remote locations – their homes or cafes. The first thought that comes to your mind in terms of savings in this regard is the saving you make with respect to the real estate. If you have a third of your workforce working remotely on an alternating basis, you can take-up a floor which is much smaller in area, The cost of furniture and other hardware would also come down proportionately. If we start to include stuff like coffee, snacks and other office-treats, these things can add-up both in terms of money and effort.

I do not intend to state that your company may observe their culture along these lines. A commitment to your employees goes a long way in defining your company’s success. And any company which invests in these extra perks at office definitely demonstrates that care and concern for their employees. Nevertheless, if there happens to be a situation where the costs are saved by such arrangements automatically, it is an added advantage for your organization.

Tapping into the “wider talent pool”

If you make room for the freelance workers and other Subject Matter Experts who want to contribute to your organization’s growth in their capacity but only on a flexible basis like consulting, the “remote working” option can be a deal-maker. The world is moving increasingly to creative work and generally these people are motivated by aspects which are not limited to money or prestige. They are always enthusiastic about the freedom that they get to work on their own schedule and from their place of choice. In such cases, “remote working” option really helps them take up the assignments. And sometimes, that means moving the needle for you. A full-time employee who does repeat work may be a pillar of core strength for your company who is absolutely crucial for a daily routine, but an innovating creative working personnel may become the differentiating factor from competition which you so seek after.

Conclusion

In summation, we can safely argue that there are both the benefits and some shortcomings to the work from home or remote working option. It needs a contextual analysis from your management to decide whether this arrangement works for your company. And if it does, what is the set of people – mostly individual contributors – who can be given the option. Most managers cant avail this option as interacting with other employees and conducting meetings form a core area of their Job Description. But it may very easily suit the profile of a software engineer who understands the module they are building and are competent to deliver the piece on their own.

As the society and times change, so do our workplace models. And the task of a good HR think-tank is to stay ahead of the curve. In that regard, “remote working” innovation can be a game changer for some industries in the long run. Is your company one to benefit from it? That is the question after-all, aint it.

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