Reported by Rupsha Bhadra and Riddhima Kedia
Working from home has finally allowed 44-year-old Parveen Mahtani to be physically present for her children. Her 15-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son no longer have to wait till the end of the day to have a conversation with their mother, said Mahtani, a Mumbai-based legal officer at Mahindra Lifespace. Swapping stories over meals has helped strengthen their bond.
“They’re teenagers. They have problems when it comes to school, their friends, peers and other emotional issues. Now, I’m always around for my children and they don’t have to wait till the end of the day to talk to me,” she said.
In July 2020, five months into the Covid-19 pandemic, Mahtani chose to join a company that had a work-from-home model. A full year has gone by and work-from-home has become the new normal for her. Mahtani still goes to the office on certain days for meetings, but work from home has allowed her to not just spend time with her children, but indulge in her childhood passion of reading.
In the year since Covid-19 triggered lockdowns across the world, and people started working remotely, there has been debate about which option is more efficient and productive, and whether working remotely will continue after the pandemic.
In India, the jury is still out, with some companies persisting with working from home since last year, and signalling that it will stay that way in the future.
Speaking with The Economic Times in June, Mainak Dhar, managing director, Kimberly-Clark India said, “ While an in-office presence does provide a better environment for collaboration, we all have learned through last year that work can be efficiently done remotely as well.” At HCL Technologies, currently, about 99% of employees are working from home, a spokesperson told ET, “As an organisation, we believe the hybrid model is going to be the future of the workplace.”
Others, however, insist that their employees return at the trough of every wave of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, some of the most successful companies in the world have made work from home a permanent feature.
Twitter is letting its staff work from home “forever.”
Microsoft, the tech giant, is also allowing all of its employees to work from home on a permanent basis.
Facebook, while speaking with the BBC, said that it would allow all employees who can work from home to do so even after the pandemic is over.
Google is set to launch a hybrid workspace model that will allow 60% of employees to work in the office for a few days a week. Around one-fifth of its staff will be allowed to work from home, and another remaining 20% may work from a different location altogether.
Work from Home could outlast the pandemic. A study in the United States suggests that 20% of full workdays will be work from home after the pandemic, compared with just 5% before. The work-from-home boom will lift productivity in the U.S. economy by 5%, mostly because of savings in commuting time.
But not everyone is a work-from-home advocate. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Solomon has called it “an aberration.” A survey in the US by The Marctec Group found a significant decline in mental health across all industries, seniority levels, and demographics when employees worked from home. Job satisfaction, job motivation, and company satisfaction were also negatively affected, as per the study.
We spoke with professionals from different fields and age groups, who plan to stick to the work-from-home model even after the pandemic, to understand the reasons behind this preference.
Parents and pets
For 27-year-old Ananya Mukherjee, a Digital Marketing Executive, working from home has been a blessing. She came back to her hometown Kolkata from Gurgaon when her company announced work from home in April 2020. Reunited with her three-year-old pet dog, Candy, and her family, Mukherjee now has no plans of living in another city and working from home. Even though she is looking to change jobs for growth, Mukherjee is actively asking companies about their policies on working from home.
For Mukherjee, when she was working from the office and living in Gurgaon, the interactions with her family would be limited to one call at the end of the day. She felt incredibly drained and exhausted.
“Right from the moment I’d wake up, to getting ready for the office, and then spending nine hours at work, working from the location would leave no time for family,” said Mukherjee. “I’d feel burnt out and tired most of the time when I spoke to them at the end of tiring days. It would lead to short, half-hearted conversations.”
For Mukherjee, who has always been very close to her family, staying at home and having her dog next to her, has been a huge boost to her mental health. She is now planning to adopt another dog. Like Mahtani, Mukherjee has found time for her childhood hobbies like cooking and photography that had long been abandoned.
“While there are some benefits of being in office, the flexibility of time and the joys of being around family and pets make me want to continue working from home for as long as possible,” she said. “It’s something I am looking for even while applying for new jobs.”
For 26-year-old Jashodhara Mukherjee, an Associate Consultant at an IT firm, moving back to Kolkata has meant saving and investing. Living away from her hometown for work meant increased expenses of rent, travel, and maids. Mukherjee was previously living in Noida.
“I have saved more than I could ever imagine,” says Mukherjee.
While living in Noida, Mukherjee says she was always really careful about how much she was spending in a month but now she can splurge occasionally.
“If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance of saving and preparing for crises. Covid treatment is pretty expensive. How will middle-class families, like the one I belong to, pay for it without savings? With minimum living expenses and more savings, I have a backup plan at least,” she said.
Good for the environment
Ruma Bhargava, the Healthcare lead for the World Economic Forum, who lives in South Mumbai, is conscious about saving the environment and uses solar panels at home, avoids polybags, and uses electricity efficiently. For the 37-year-old, working from home accentuates her eco-friendly lifestyle.
“Work from home has been an eco-friendly set-up in different ways,” says Bhargava.
Bhargava ticks off the benefits to the environment; no vehicular pollution, no 24-7 consumption of electricity in the office, and no unnecessary print-outs, disposable cups for tea, coffee, or water.
“This lockdown phase is a new opportunity for each one of us to save the environment, make the best out of our time, focus on skill development, and exercise,” she said.
When Tanuj Kar, a 29-year-old consultant at one of the Big 4 companies, was working out of Mumbai, he would spend over an hour commuting to work every day from Goregaon to Prabhadevi, travelling by the local train, then waiting for a shared taxi to reach his office.
In Bandra South, autos wouldn’t ply and cabs would charge sky-high rates. When he couldn’t get a shared cab, Kar would end up walking over two or three kilometres to reach the office. The worst days were when it rained.
“We’d have to dress appropriately for the office, and I have even had days where I’ve turned up with a torn sleeve, due to the rush and commotion of the train,” he said. “These things were dreadful.”
Kar has been working from home from Kolkata, for the Mumbai-based company for over a year now.
He no longer pays an exorbitant rent, saves money, and enjoys home food. Kar says that he would like a hybrid model of work in the future and hopes that work from home is made voluntary.
“I don’t want to stay in Bombay, just to show my face in the office every day,” he said.