Could the Current COVID-19 Crisis Make WFH the New Normal?

The COVID-19 pandemic has begun a new era in work-life — the significant emergence of work from home (WFH). If you have done WFH in the past, you have your game in place. However, for those who are experiencing this for the first time, it is likely that you are feeling a little lost. Just remember this — WFH is like working in the office. 

Aditi Ray Bose, Content Manager at NorthMetric was discussing the current WFH situation with Ashwin Rai, Founder of NorthMetric, as the teams start the second phase of a national lockdown in India. The discussion, as Aditi recommended, merited its own blog topic and so we decided to transcribe the dialogue and thought it might be worth sharing on our blog.

Here’s how the dialogue went.

1. Do you think all industries can have WFH?

Well, certainly not, whether it’s a private or a public sector enterprise. I mean, look at healthcare and medical professionals around the world, especially at a time like this. Hospitality, retail, food, transportation, aviation, manufacturing—there are industries that will crash in an extended lockdown situation. We’re lucky to be in an industry where remote work is an option. As a matter of fact, the only factor that impacts, or retrains if we might argue, productivity is our own ability to manage our schedule when working from home.   

2. Which would you say are the jobs where WFH would work best? 

Jobs in the digital technology space, of course, would straightaway come to mind. Software for instance. But you’d be surprised there are many jobs that you could take out of the office space without a significant change or drop in productivity. Customer support, technical support, sales, digital marketing, content creation—you know, copywriting, editing, video production, graphic design, multimedia. These jobs are the foundation for many businesses. Jobs such as teaching, training… these are just some off the top of my head, I am sure there are many more—accounting, payroll, auditing, recruitment, consulting of any kind—tax, marketing, sales, technology…

3. Have you ever done WFH?

A lot. I worked from home for the most part of 2019 as we were expecting the birth of our daughter. Of late, I’ve been working remotely while traveling—although remote work isn’t quite the same as working from home. WFH is essentially the same as working out of the office, at least for certain types of work and certain industries. However, it certainly isn’t what most people think of it. If you don’t organize yourself, you’re going to have a really difficult time managing. On the other hand, if you do, you’ll see that you don’t really need to spend 10 hours a day slogging—eight to nine hours in the office and an hour or so on your commute. Plan your day, stay focused, take your breaks, and make the most of the 2-3 hours that you earn from not having to physically go to the office.

4. What challenges did you face then?

I did not face many challenges which is what allowed me to do it on and off for several months last year. I think the challenges linked to WFH would largely vary depending on the nature of your work, your dependency on the team and vice-versa, and most importantly, your ability to manage your time and your teams remotely if your role demands that. I have a complete office set-up at home but perhaps a lot of people don’t, and that can have an impact on your overall productivity. Working with a full set-up versus working sitting in your bed can have a major impact on your ability to focus for long hours, at least that’s how I’ve felt.   

I guess the only challenge is you always tend to work a little extra—which isn’t something I’d personally advocate because I have this bad habit, and yes I’d call it a bad habit. If you work 2-3 extra hours in the day, you’ll feel tired but you ignore it because you keep telling yourself—well, I am saving 2 hours of commute time and I might as well use it. You might, every now and then, but if you make it a habit, you’ll burn yourself out very quickly.

5. What is the greatest challenge an employer faces in WFH?

I think the greatest challenge is trust. Employers think people aren’t going to give their 100%. It is true to an extent—people may not be able to give their 100% because not everyone has the infrastructure or the kind of set-up that’s required to work with 100% efficiency while working from home. People have kids at home, some have the tendency to feel too comfortable, often to the extent of being lazy, these are real challenges of doing WFH. It is doable though, with effort, and the right support. After all, people aren’t necessarily 100% efficient all the time while working in the office either.

There are a ton of cloud-based tools to measure productivity, to keep remote teams connected, to give remote employees access to all the assets that they need to get their job done, but it all depends on how efficient the person is.  

So, I think if at some point, and I feel this paradigm shift is on the horizon and the COVID-19 crisis may well be a tipping point, the WFH trend becomes the new normal in the years to come; there’s going to be a gradual shift in the mindset of both the employers and the employees, making the transition less challenging than it seemingly is today. 

6. What are the legal and security issues that an employer would have to take while introducing WFH?

That would depend on the industry they’re in. The ITES sector or the vast majority of the IT industry that deals with sensitive customer data, for instance, would certainly need stringent policies in place if data, and devices containing data, are accessed outside of the workplace. 

You asked [what are the] legal [issues], I think companies will need to create effective work from home policies and guidelines. For example, employees are expected to maintain their assets, their company devices, or their own devices as BYOD is increasingly common now. They need to ensure their WFH place is adequately equipped and well-furnished to sustain a constructive working environment. Now, to what extent should companies support employees in that? If companies save money on rent, overheads and so on, should some of that become a component of the remote employees’ benefits? This will likely lead to the emergence of another service or industry but this isn’t something that could not be dealt with.

7. Do you feel that regular employees will discriminate against those who are working from home?

Perhaps they might not, especially after having experienced in the current lock-down period what WFH truly feels like. You still need to get your work done. If anything it takes more effort because you need to be responsible with little supervision. You don’t just wake up late and work in your pyjamas and slippers. You could try doing that for a week but you’ll soon realize that if you take WFH just like you take your average day working at the office—working off of a schedule, you’ll see that it isn’t a holiday, it’s still work. If there’s a shift toward WFH, everyone will get their share of WFH, a few days a week or as the work demands. That should leave little room for bias.

8. Do people need to be more disciplined to be successful in WFH?

They certainly do. We talked about it and I cannot stress enough—if you’re complacent you’ll have a really hard time staying productive. 

You mostly work from home. Why don’t you share some tips or things that you do to manage your productivity while doing WFH?


Here’s what I recommend.

  • Have a morning routine in place so that you can begin work at the same time every day.
  • Take breaks in between.
  • Stay away from disturbances. If the household is noisy, use a noise cancellation headphone and tell others in the house what your work hours are and that you do not want to be disturbed during this time.
  • Get yourself organized—sit with the laptop, phone, charger, pen, paper, and other things you’ll need before you begin work
  • Plan out your workday the night before so that you know what your schedule is.

9. Any final words of advice to employers and employees wrt WFH?

I think once we’re past COVID-19, we’ll begin to see a shift. It’s unlikely to be a major shift in the immediate future but gradually, certain industries will begin to consider WFH as an option, or it wouldn’t be a detrimental factor in the hiring process if employees seek it. I think it’ll open up new opportunities for a very talented potential workforce that currently remains untapped, and companies will benefit from it. A win-win. 

I don’t know the original source of this statement but I read it on LinkedIn and I really liked it, it said—if you cannot trust your employees to work flexibly, why hire them in the first place? [source found]

Mindset.. that’s going to be the key.

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