Coronavirus and the new work paradigm

Working from Home

A few years ago, while I had been still stuck inside the time warp of a technology company, I found out with clarity that I had not been created for the rigmarole of a corporate job. To speak honestly, the next job and the next one to that drove me to the same conclusion. What I want to say here is that I could never fit into the regular routine and grind of a 9 to 5 job (the 5 limit indicated is just for fun). And it is always supported by the truth that if you are not focused on something 24/7 (leaving the time spent for your family and your body’s natural needs) then you have no right to want to be successful in whatever you do. After all, man is here to do something and not to just be.

My problem was that I am a homebody and did not like to be cooped up in a 6' X 6' cubicle or a slightly larger one for anything more than 5–6 hours. I loved to be in the company of my team mates, but I wanted to be home at the same time.

The company stipulated work hours were 9 in a workday. Now, I agree that if you enjoy your work and are passionate about it, you might not realize that these are mandatory hours. My co-workers on the other hand, seemed to enjoy each other’s company and did not leave for their abodes even after work hours. They lingered on to play carrom or go out for drinks. On weekends they planned get togethers and went out on team outings (both arranged by HR and otherwise). These were unthinkable for me as my idea of relaxation was different and involved resting at home or going out with my daughter.

I used to finish my work without distractions every day and managed to leave the office by 5.30 in the evening. No two-hour lunch break or water cooler conversations for me, and this allowed me to be free to leave before time. I had my lunch without any delay at 12.00 noon sharp. This continued for 6 months before my teammates started warning me that I was flouting office rules that stipulated a 9 hour work day. I continued to ignore these warnings as I was confident about my work and that the management would not care.

A month after these warnings, I was summoned by my boss into his cabin. He was quite concerned by a mail from the HR representative of our team, citing that I was regularly leaving the office before the mandatory hour completion. He said he was not against leaving office early if the work got done on time, but since the rules were not particularly friendly, maybe I should oblige in future. His sympathies were with me, but I had not done the right thing in behaving this way. I promised to not embarrass him in future.

Back at my desk, I wrote to the HR representative explaining my situation and that I had not skulked any task assigned to me. In fact, I was doing a lot more. I also quoted an article by the Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson which stated the need for more relaxed work hours to boost productivity. A 4-day work week could be the future of more practical work I said. As an alternative, a work from home day once a week should help employees gain more control of their personal lives. It could save the environment because of the ability to take away a large chunk of vehicles from the road at a time. It should be made a norm by governments, shouldn't it? It would help reduce carbon footprint, something that the company was also arguing for. It would help us help our loved ones and attend to their needs. It would save the company more money in terms of power and resources that could be redirected for its enhanced performance.

Working from Home

If I expected a logical reply, I was mistaken. The HR rep seemed to get more incensed, and remained unmoved to the plight of the environment or to the state of the family. Her reply was terse. She was still unhappy with my independent streak that did not respect rules. It seemed to her to be the arrogance of an errant employee than a futuristic world view. She said she agreed with Sir Branson, but his employees were more mature probably and would not misuse their freedom. I was unfortunately not too familiar with the Virgin office environment nor am I known to Sir Branson, so I could not confirm her fears.

2020 and the Coronavirus — Move to Virtual

Cut to 2020. The HR representative must now be wondering how a small virus measuring less than PM2.0, has now allowed every one the freedom to work from home for not one day, not one week but close to two months. Maturity of the workforce is now not a concern for the poor woman. Or maybe she is still concerned about how the employees are enjoying a well-deserved break from their cubicles.

Conclusion

Productivity is to be measured in terms of an employee’s ability to churn in value adding work and not in terms of the number of hours spent in office. It took a useless pathogen to prove this.