Bed-desk-bed: it’s time WFH becomes mainstream again! But is the ‘go to work’ culture over yet? And is WFH economically viable in the first place? Well, let’s decode.
The thriller that was 2020 was just about to be over when its sequel was released! Despite a year of economic downturn, people were once again forced to move indoors in a bid to stop the virus from spreading! Unwillingly though, many outlets shut and offices closed for the sake of the safety of all stakeholders. And the only way you could keep business up and running was - Work From Home.
A revolutionary concept, though, WFH, for sure had its fair share of applause and criticism. So, read on this piece to make sense of the perks and perils of Work From Home, and rock that dinner-table discussion tonight!
The bright side of WFH
At the outset, the obvious thing that comes to mind is the discussion around productivity. Because that’s all that matters, for the company, for the industry, and the economy as a whole. As long as a business practice drives productivity, you’d have no problem with that, right? But does WFH boost productivity?
You see, India ‘goes to work’. Meaning, you got to travel a few miles, and sometimes quite a distance, rushing your way amidst traffic, local mob & road pits to reach your workplace. Besides the time you waste commuting, a daily office rush exposes you to the polluted atmosphere and can also be a traumatic experience at times!
According to Ingraham, in 2014 alone, an estimated 139 million US workers wasted a collective 3.4 million years commuting to work. That’s awful!! Enter India, and it’s even more discouraging! You lose a whole lot of time, money, and patience in this pursuit of traveling to work.
Irrefutably, WFH has an edge in these metrics. A survey says that an average working professional in India can save around Rs 5000 per month and avoid 2 hours of travel time daily by working from home. Also, add to it, fewer accidents and less pollution, and now you know why WFH is both human and eco-friendly.
The time saved can be better utilized at work and can go a long way in boosting productivity. Moreover, working from home has its own benefits of less interruption at work and a quiet work environment, which help in upping efficiency. Developed economies like the US predict a 5% productivity boost due to WFH, and in emerging nations like India, it could be as high as 20%!
In this WFH model, employees now eat healthily, eat on time, take power naps, stretch, and this does boost their performance. A survey by PGI reported that while working from home, 80% of respondents admitted more morale, and 69% exhibited less absenteeism. Make of it what you will.
Look at it from the perspective of an employer. Apart from the perks of increased productivity, employers now save on operating costs as well. Offices shut means avoidance of transportation, electricity, water, and other bills. Moreover, permanent work from home means savings on lease rent as well.
Estimates say all of this could make operating costs drop by a whopping 50-70%! Well, you won't believe but Google reports saving more than US$ 1 Bn in 2020 due to work from home! So yeah, WFH does cut costs.
There is also this bit about de-urbanization. Our cities are becoming increasingly overcrowded. And they will be the worst affected in these testing times, Covid today, maybe pollution, water shortage or flood tomorrow! The only way to overcome these challenges is to cut down the density of population in our cities or simply make more people go back home. And WFH does just that.
Individuals who had moved out of their hometowns might now return back, to work from the comfort of their homes. This will spur consumption and growth in rural markets. Moreover, people working from home may need more help in household chores, which could create many new local jobs, for instance, domestic help, electricians, etc. Deserving individuals, who could not move out to work in cities due to dependents back at home, may now contribute to the economy. This way, WFH bridges the geographical gap as well.
Freelancing, project-based hiring, and gig working models will gain traction. Companies working in spaces like edtech, online communication, team management, telecom, data security, online delivery, online food aggregators, etc will benefit from WFH. Apart from generating revenue and paying taxes, these companies will also hire professionals and gig workers. Indeed, it can create livelihoods for a large number of unemployed masses.
Anyway, is WFH too much of a good thing?
The dark side of WFH
Consider the premise for a typical WFH-setup. You need a computer and a broadband connection, to mention the least. Now, enter India. Many villages in India don’t even have a stable electricity supply, let alone computers! WE Forum finds that only 15% of Indian households have internet access!
This uneven distribution of infrastructure and a lack of basic IT skills among a major chunk of the population poses a grim outlook for implementing work from home across the board! This could also aggravate the income inequality issue plaguing India!
WFH deprives firms of the benefits of information and knowledge spillovers! When at the office, you talk to people, you exchange ideas, you hearsay stuff, there are unwelcomed opinions, and all of this, many a time, proves beneficial. In WFH, you’re more concerned about the operations of you and your team. There’s less interaction with others and hence, less exchange of ideas!
Also, you must have read this somewhere, a few months ago, Spotify (a music-streaming app) came up with an album called ‘SoundOfColleagues’ that creates an office-like ambiance during WFH! Sounds weird, right? But you’ll be shocked to know that it received a really good response from the workforce. Why so, you ask? Well, the office culture is probably one of its kind. You don’t find it at home! And indeed so, even a research report by IBM says that employees feel lonely, overworked, and mentally stressed at home!
Being connected is a prerequisite for remote working. This requires you to face the computer all day long. Such a prolonged exposure could impair your vision, hearing ability and invite a host of medical expenses as well!
Also, there is this bit about work-life (im)balance. You got to juggle work and life, household chores, looking after children, their online classes, and other stuff, sometimes blurring the thin line separating work and life! A survey by Genius Consultants reported 50% of the respondents admitting that WFH impacted their work-life balance and made them spend less time with their family. Although this goes against popular opinion, it’s what it is!
Consider the adverse impact of WFH on various industries.
Look at co-working space companies. They take buildings on lease and rent out small spaces to startups. With WFH, they may not see startups coming back to the office, and thus, might not receive the rent payments while still having to meet the lease rentals! Also, they may have to reorganize the working spaces to make them well-ventilated, cleaner, and safer. For an industry piling on unsustainable debts, this could really be deadly!
Shutting down offices permanently might lead to the commercial real estate sector losing traction. The popular opinion goes that for WFH, people might need more spaces and thus, may prefer bigger homes and this will bring residential real estate to good form.
But that might not entirely be the case. Many have had their finances badly impacted due to the pandemic and thus, may not prefer coughing up big sums for big houses.
Downtown restaurants and the transportation industry might also be affected.
This impact on real estate and transportation might further percolate into losses in the vast construction industry (cement, steel, paint, design, etc.), lesser auto-sales, lower demand for petrol and diesel, and so on!
Office maintenance roles like canteens, cleaners, etc. might also lose importance in a permanent WFH model! All industries can not work from home. For instance, delivery, emergency services, factories, hotels, etc. need people to be at the field to work. Thus, WFH might render many workers unemployed, especially the gig, unskilled and daily wage labor.
WE Forum estimates that about 100 million workers in 35 advanced and emerging nations are at high risk of losing jobs as they can’t work from home!
So, now you know.
The bottom line
A research report by VoxEU illustrates that the impact of a full WFH model on the GDP of a nation is kind of an inverted U-shaped curve. Meaning, work from home could lead to a growth in GDP for a few years, but beyond that, the effect could actually be detrimental! Or so to say, an entirely WFH model may not be sustainable in the long run.
The same report suggests that an effective strategy would be to let employees work from home for two or three days a week. This could serve as a trade-off between the perks and perils of working from home.
Apparently, such a kind of hybrid model would go a long way in helping India become a super productive economy. Hopefully so!!
Anyway, what’re your thoughts? Is WFH good, or is it too much of a good thing? We’d love to read your opinion in the comments below.