By Shadan Muneer
When life demands a reset from its routine it takes time to adjust. The regular morning alarm, the muffled protests of drowsy children, harried mothers, office-going rush, last-minute preparations and winding up, honking office vehicles, the swear-heavy and sweaty commute to work and the after-work hangouts at coffee shops and malls, pubs and watering holes late into the night — all paused by a micro-organism.
Coronavirus, our unwelcome guest, prompted major changes in life as Work From Home (WFH) became the new normal. People embraced new routines and norms. The world witnessed its impact on all facets of life and has changed the way people work, especially those in the organised sector.
WFH has been implemented across most organisations. While the IT sector is familiar with the WFH concept, it is a relatively new experience for employees working in various other sectors. Adapting to it will require discipline, time management and prioritising.
Resistance to change is common with the sudden shift of working environment, adding to the stress is the fear and anxiety related with safeguarding oneself and families from the threat of Coronavirus and the uncertainty of job security and layoffs is taking a toll on the mental health of employees.
A lot of people working across different sectors across the city have been working remotely to keep the services uninterrupted during the lockdown. As people mentally prepare themselves for what seems like a long period of working remotely, we caught up with professionals across the city to get a reality dose on what’s working and what’s not.
A perfect balance to work and life in comfort zones
Madhu Kumar, Associate Manager of an IT Company says, “We at the IT sector have adopted WFH model and have been providing business to clients without lowering quality and productivity. Initially we had our share of challenges with the WFH concept with regard to internet connectivity and power outages. Learning from the experience, we have now provided dongles to our employees, paying up for their broadband services and also UPS rents for their desktops to maintain uninterrupted services.”
He further says, “In terms of productivity, we have been quite successful as each employee is given a task which is to be completed within a limited time and monitored with regular performance conversations with managers — most tasks are accomplished virtually using technology. We are also leveraging video and audio conferencing meetings in lieu of face-to-face meetings. With WFH having worked for employees it appears as if we have found a perfect balance to work and life in our comfort zones,” he explains.
“Our company is functional with limited staff as per the Government guidelines and even after the lockdown is fully lifted we will start off only with the required staff and work in staggered shifts and increase the numbers once things start getting back to normal,” he reveals.
More time with family and more time to exercise
Dr. Raja Gopal, a leading Psychiatrist, says, “There are certain issues associated with WFH where the usual office routine and the work structure gets disrupted while working from home and it gets difficult to stick to a routine and with the personal freedom on hand one tends to follow a more flexible schedule. With the current situation not allowing us to step out more often leads to stress, people are also missing out on the regular social and recreational activities while they are at home.”
“Loneliness by being away from friends and family can also lead to anxiety. Working from home, juggling work and companionship can become a strenuous task,” quotes the doctor. He further says, “It is best to treat work from home as you would treat working from office, fix hours that works best for you and plan your work accordingly, prioritise your task, maintain discipline, stick to a routine and make the best use of technology to make work easier.”
“Do make time to connect with your loved ones, it is important to keep taking small breaks in between, reward yourself with a cup of tea/ coffee or a snack to keep yourself energised and give your body some rest. Get good sleep and maintain a balanced diet,” he advises.
He adds, “WFH also comes with its set of advantages like personal freedom, building your own working schedule, no distractions from colleagues and zero commute which will allow you to spend more time with family and more time to exercise which in turn will help you stay fit both mentally and physically.”
Family distractions with children and pets around
Poornima, working at a Software Company, states, “Working patterns have definitely shifted, like many other tech firms our company has also embraced remote working, we are working at less than 33 percent of the workforce. There are benefits and drawbacks attached with this new practice for both employees and organisations, the plus point is that we get to schedule our work time that gives us greater control and we can prioritise what needs to be tackled first, can take breaks at any moment, eat freshly-cooked food for lunch at any time and can also stay in comfy clothes.”
“WFH also saves us from unwanted distractions in office, traffic woes and travel time is saved. The flipside to it is that large number of the workforce don’t have proper work desks/chairs at their homes or face network issues. The company is responsible to provide connectivity and portable equipment to them. Lack of focus, family distractions especially with children and pets within households are some of the drawbacks” she quotes.
Texts and emails cannot replace in-person meetings
The WFH scheme has been rather challenging for some sectors. Rakesh, the CEO of a Casement Factory says, “The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has impacted on our factory’s production and sales. In the past 2 months, everything had come to a standstill and only the sales and marketing teams were working from home. We rely on social interactions and body language to understand customers for sales. Passing out information about the product through phone or video-calling doesn’t work. Absence of meetings and discussions with colleagues and customers has impacted the productivity,” opines the CEO.
“With a lot of production midway and payments pending, it is difficult to convince and reassure the customers on supplies during these uncertain times and when it comes to the balance payments, the recovery was tough. Phone calls, texts and emails cannot replace the in-person meetings. Remote working has not worked much for us but maintaining social distancing is the need of the hour,” he adds.
Proactive engagement for sustained productivity
While many have the option of WFH, there are certain sectors listed under essential services who remained operational throughout the lockdown as per the Government directive. One such being the banking sector.
“With advanced technology in digital banking lot of simplifications were introduced to our customers, services were offered online through certain links and applications to make sure that the customer services are not hampered during the lockdown. We also updated them about the iMobile, internet banking and WhatsApp banking for their convenience. Teams working in staggered shifts have been provided with internal apps to access to customer details to deal with them, pre-approved loans, insurances and investments have been covered online,” says Prasanna Kumar, Manager of a private sector bank.
He further says, “From managerial perspective, we have to ensure constant and proactive engagement for productivity to be sustained and also keep employees motivated to dispel anxiety, video- conference calls every morning with a common objective and a sense of community is created.”
“Initially during the lockdown we worked with minimal staff but walk-in customers have increased in the past week and we will add the staff as per the requirement. There are employees who have voluntarily requested to allow them to work from office space because of personal distractions, natural challenges and network issues,” he says.
Completing work at home became a long process
Ashwin, employed at a Telecom Company, who is back to working from the office space after having worked from home for seven weeks says, “It was for the first time that I and all my family members were at home at a time and were forced to work from home. Initially I was finding it difficult to work because of lack of space and privacy as our home had turned into workplace and I wasn’t comfortable working with people looking over my shoulder and at the work front with the absence of superiors. Completing work became a long process while dealing with the customers. I am happy to be back at the office as I get inspired seeing others working and I like office atmosphere,” he says.
As the uncertainty looms over when things would go back to being the same as the pre-pandemic times, one has to realise that new situations warrant new skills and new adaptation techniques. To embrace change as the only constant and to leverage resources available to one’s advantage is the key to succeed in these turbulent times.