I’ll work, but from home!

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By Tina Garg

Women of course, are the first-takers, asking to work from home to care for the children and the elders, or when they return to work, post the maternity leave. But it’s not just the women, men today are equally excited about choosing this option to support their nuclear families or cut commuting time. More and more men in fact, opt to work out of home for at least two to three days a week.

With cities growing beyond their seams, more professionals eye work-from-home options.

Nikhila participates in a conference call at 3:00 p.m. — not in the office but from her home in Bangalore. Tapan is able to attend a parent-teacher meet at his son’s school in the middle of a workday. Meghla balances the responsibilities of her joint family while delivering graphics solution to her clients across the globe. The workday has changed to accommodate professionals like Nikhila, Tapan and Meghla, who want to work from home, thanks to the flexibility it provides them.

A decade ago, not many Indian companies, especially the non-IT firms, were open to the idea of allowing their professionals to work out of their homes. However, on June 8, globalization has resulted in a global culture percolating into the Indian corporate milieu, and has brought in its wake, a few things that both the sexes are beginning to see the benefits of.

Says Nirmala Menon, CEO, Interweave, “Today, almost 100 percent of your workforce uses the concept of flexible working hours, while about 8 to 12 percent comfortably use the work from home option.” Nirmala and her team at Interweave, help Indian corporate houses explore the benefits of diversity, which includes a cultural shift to accommodate the requirements of a diverse workforce. She herself successfully handled employee relations at IBM while working from home, before she quit starting her own diversity management practice. “Indian companies want to make the shift but don’t know how to tackle mind-sets and articulate the right policies. It would be ideal to have some people with high visibility adopt the work-from-home option first, so the message passes to the others too.”

For Nikila Rangaswamy, AVP – People and Talent, Cabdury India, it worked exactly like that. She in fact, has launched the program at Cadbury (where each employee is allowed to work out of home two days a month) and became a user herself when her family relocated to Bangalore, from Mumbai. Since Cadbury India did not have a corporate presence in Bangalore, Nikhila set up a home-office here and continued to perform full-time in her role at Cadbury’s Mumbai office. Of course, in her case her interaction was mainly with global stakeholders, making her role location-independent.

However, the question still arises as to which roles can really be transferred to the work-from-home option and which are the ones that cannot? And don’t the behavioral traits of the professional wanting to shift to this option affect their eligibility? “Of course, the self-motivated and committed individuals graduate to this option easily,” says Nirmala, who also believes that almost any role has a component that can be handled from home with ease. “It’s for the manager and the team member to work out between themselves, by tweaking it a bit.”

Corporate in fact, encourage managers to spot talent that can migrate to telecommuting. This is largely owing to dipping work-life balance figures and post-maternity attrition, showing up repeatedly in corporate surveys.  “In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where the commute to work is almost two to three hours a day, and also in crowded cities like Bangalore, it greatly enhances the productivity of the   workforce too,” adds Ashok Kakulla, Independent IT consultant, who works half the week from his home, and the other half from his office.

Other benefits to corporate operations include a reduction in infrastructure costs with the reduction in the number of occupied desks at work. In fact, this cost is such a strong influencer that some prominent IT firms in the City, including IBM, are known to pay specific employees working from home an incentive per month. Women of course, are the first-takers, asking to work from home to care for the children and the elders, or when they return to work, post the maternity leave. But it’s not just the women, men today are equally excited about choosing this option to support their nuclear families or cut commuting time. More and more men in fact, opt to work out of home for at least two to three days a week.

All said and done, how does this impact your  visibility in the firm? “There has to be an optimal point,” says Ashok, “after which you need to mingle with the team and see your colleagues.” Nirmala agrees too and advises people choosing the work-from-home option to keep themselves

“visible enough and well-connected with the office team. At the other end of the spectrum are entrepreneurs like Tapan and Meghla, who’d rather enjoy independent careers — and in their own way — working from home. Says Meghla, “Working from home gives me the opportunity to shape my life the way I want to. Plus, there are no bosses to follow, no corporate culture to abide by, and no rigid work schedules!”

It’s a matter of time and traditional Indian corporate need to rise to the needs of the new Indian professional.

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