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The Phenomenon called…Work from Home (Part I)

Alright. Right at the outset, let us just agree upon and establish that the world does not really require another article about the lockdown, about the changing lifestyles due to the lockdown, the issues with managing your business or securing your job - operating from home. These articles are everywhere, in the newspapers that you now read on your phone, in suggested reads on your favourite apps, in video suggestions after that cake recipe or exercise routine video you just finished watching or just stuffed down your throat without your consent, while you let your fingers go crazy in their daily cardio routine, that is scrolling through your feed on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms. If you do still insist on having some immediate takeaways, there is an info-graphic at the end to start off with, before resorting to any other best practices or hacks!

Having said that, neither am I lining up to romanticise the pandemic, with some deep and profound reflection on the times we are living in and how it is the face mask for our world, cleansing it of its spots and dead skin or in this case - the disastrous after effects of human activities and setting the balance right! Nor do I wish to go the pessimistic route to highlight the state of misery of so many people in the country and abroad, be it due to the pandemic itself, or indirectly by the financial, social and mental effects of the same. While it may sound so, but I am not being cynical, there does exist a dire need of stopping this poetic narrative around the entire situation, be it actual poetry or performances by influential people or the forced reassured behaviour of the masses feeling a sense of pride over the spirit they have shown through it, which yes, absolutely exists, but that isn’t the end of it or enough to rest on our laurels and act mindlessly, carelessly and irresponsibly when actually venturing outdoors, without bothering about the safety of others around, reserving kindness & empathy only for the posts on social media, but breaking queues or pushing & shoving people around you, making a mess of the need of the hour – social distancing.

Yes, social distancing – the cure until there is a cure for good, if ever there is one! This precautionary measure may have not given birth to the phenomenon or style of operation we are about to take a deep dive into, but certainly been the catalyst and guiding force behind its rise. Phenomenon in question - Work from Home. WFH for short - an extended Block Leave for some, while a loss of any form of freedom and control over life, for others - characterised by excruciating work & no breathing space. There is so much to unwrap and unravel about this change which to some is revolutionary, while others shrug their shoulders and pat their own backs declaring it as only intuitive and long foreseen. Literally so much to discuss apart from the usual banter around the best tools, grooming & health tips, pros and cons, difficulties and hacks etc.

Personally, being between jobs and trying to develop something of my own, I have not had to face this transitional phase and bear the brunt first hand. However, having said that, it gave me the best seat in the house to observe people around me work, study, coordinate resources, manage deadlines and adapt forcibly to what hit them. By talking with friends and family about their experiences, I gained deeper insights into what and how this phase has come about. To the extent where I have seen people literally have a character arc over just a span of few months, change and develop for the better or the exact opposite, slump and crash by getting a little too comfortable in their skin. The best and worst sides of so many people have come to the fore, be it due to the increased times spent together, face-to-face, in-person or just the mental fatigue, leading to outbursts, with having nowhere to go, seeing the same walls, same people and losing touch with the outer reality, further being driven into the shell due to the numerous negative developments, natural or otherwise that this year has brought upon us.

Firstly, the impact on life. Not just the increased reclusiveness, but also the increased time spent on screens, whether for work, or for making the most of free resources made available at this time – webinars, online courses and conferences, video calls with family and friends, all-in-all it has taken a toll on the body and the mind drastically even if not evident or felt yet. The strain on the eyes, the recurring backaches, the decreased attention spans, the damaged postures, increased frustration, are only few of the many consequences. While there are several tips and hacks floating around, ranging from better food to the simplest exercises, tips for better sleep, or not letting work get the better of you, the harsh reality is that a lot of it is not practically possible, atleast for the vast majority reeling under the pressure and heightened demands of work that is squeezing them dry and here is why.

While we can argue, it is just the start and thus there will be teething problems initially, but there is no escaping the fact that the expectations and demands of the WFH system are nothing like the conventional one. Even the conventional system was getting increasingly taxing, with availability of a resource expected to be 24*7, whether on-site, in-office or on-call - NO excuses, NO questions asked, this has been taken to another level, with an assumed availability, knowing the person in question is definitely locked up at home and cannot refuse to work, no matter how ridiculous the deadline. No structured timings, working round the clock, in the midst of the email warfare (nothing short of the constantly flying simulated arrows in the show Mahabharat that again ran through this period), eating through lengthy, often avoidable calls or answering calls, emails, messages sitting on the pot in the washroom, the scenes are downright ludicrous.

Expectations vs Reality in the case of working from home is as starkly different as night and day. The name by itself gives the feeling of comfort, leisure, flexibility and independence; the reality of It lands a punch in the face, by taking away all the freedom, increasing the number of hours put into work - is anything but comfortable with the infrastructure of the usual homes not supporting a long working day, the chitter-chatter and spitter-spatter of others in the house and all the additional chores that were usually taken care of, adding to the hustle. WFH does not just stay restricted to work “from” home, but extends to work “for” home too, in the sense of chipping in with the chores and also in the perspective of working harder to retain the job at hand. I say this since, if it is something that can be remotely managed with ease, it is as easily transferable or be made redundant, thus working “for a” home is an additional sword that hangs overhead. All of a sudden, the chair at work seems like a bed of roses, instead of the comfy lounge chairs or bean bags at home that prick like a throne of thorns.

Borrowing from an experience narrated by a dear one, the increase in disparity of workload is seeing newer heights or should I say newer lows, with several members in the team hiding behind the curtains, quite literally and tactfully getting their work done by others in the team. The case in point wherein the middle-level manager shamelessly making life unbearable for junior employees, by not just obstructing their work, but also offloading his share of tasks onto them, citing that he has the authority to do the same and thereafter conveniently enjoying his slumber, conveniently waking up just in time to collect the deliverables, stamp his name on the same and hand it over to the top management. One might say this is easily avoidable by assigning unique IDs, by seeing the credentials of creators and modifiers of a file, however, despite the mail trail, the credentials, unique IDs, the sheer quantum of work and fast approaching deadlines, make it practically impossible to track the real hands that do the work, thereby benefiting the few and causing misery to the majority entry-level and associate level employees. Trying to be optimistic about these inefficiencies coming to the fore in due course and eventually re-balanced or eradicated, but until then, the level in the food chain will continue to impact the misery.

(Taken forward in Part – II...

Stay tuned, stay safe. keep smiling, stay hydrated & yes, Happy Working!)

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