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Can Indian Workplaces Embrace A Flexible Future In A Post COVID World?

Posted: July 9, 2020

The current crisis showed us that work from home is possible for everyone as long as everyone shares the house work load too. Is this a vision we can take forward?

There is a noticeable shift in the mood of late. The focus is changing from ‘when will this pandemic end’ to ‘how do we live with this virus’. A subject that has recently been dominating conversations with family, friends and colleagues is what our workplaces may look like going forward.

Internationally, leading organisations have voiced their views – flexible work is the future and it’s here to stay. Work from home is finally mainstream – proving that many of the barriers existed only in our minds.

How will India react? The narrative still seems focused on how we should open up our workplaces. Conversations are still centered around the question – ‘When will we start going back to work?’ This, despite the fact that many of those privileged enough to hold employment in the organised sector or run knowledge based businesses are already ‘at work’.

That leads to the question – what is ‘work’ itself? Achievement of a desired outcome through sustained individual and organizational efforts? Are location, physical interaction and adherence to specific hours always essential for this?

The traditional Indian workplace

Culturally, India has not embraced flexibility at work. Part-time work or flexible work has been a hard fought battle waged mainly by women wanting to strike a balance between their personal and professional responsibilities.

Barring a few exceptions, flexible work arrangements have never been offered uniformly to employees regardless of gender or parental responsibilities. Diversity, as a human resources goal, has generally involved attracting/retaining female employees through special work arrangements rather than levelling the playing field. And for many women flexibility has often come at the cost of career progression and equality in remuneration.

Will the pandemic lead to a real, viable change?

Can this health crisis then be the trigger for a change that India Inc has been reluctant to make voluntarily? Will this crisis finally break the prevailing mindset and help us all demand a work environment that is healthier, more egalitarian and seamlessly unites personal and professional goals?

I would like to hazard a guess and be brave enough to say, Yes!

Why? For one, this crisis has forced a more equitable distribution of responsibilities within the family unit in the absence of an extended support system. This has come with a whole new appreciation for the challenges involved in balancing work and family. It has also brought home the point that there are a number of tasks and roles that can easily be performed from home or rather from anywhere with a strong internet connection.

What needs to be done

A lot needs to be done to make this change successful and permanent and not all of it is easy – robust processes and policies to ensure efficiency and productivity, balancing in-person team interaction with flexibility, harnessing the right technology to optimum effect and more. Having worked in flexible roles for a number of years, I agree these challenges are significant. However, they are not insurmountable!

What do organisations stand to gain – the potential benefits could be huge in terms of reduction in organizational costs, enhanced employee health and well-being, a reduced carbon footprint and greater diversity – not just gender but in terms of location, disability, etc. The potential benefits for society at large – happier families, cleaner air and decongested cities to name a few!

Will India Inc embrace this vision of the future?

Image source: shutterstock

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