Future of work: Work from home, office, or hybrid?

When the coronavirus pandemic forced us to take our offices home, many saw the benefits of remote working. Two years since, what is the future of work?
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Working from home was a luxury — and an anomaly — before the pandemic. When coronavirus forced office goers around the world to work from home, there was a lot of debate around how it will impact productivity, creativity, and ultimately, work.

Eventually, as remote working became the norm, several benefits started to emerge — flexibility, cost and time savings on commuting, etc. This also led to a rise in “borderless hiring”, making it easier to find talent without any geographical constraints. 

However, working from home also created challenges around finding a work-life balance, leading to a rise in burnout among corporate employees, an acute lack of social interaction, and for some, distractions and a lack of discipline.

Almost two years since, the debate persists, especially as some companies are finding ways to get back to the office. 

Image credit: Daisy

While some companies are seeking to fully revert to the pre-pandemic office setup, others are open to the possibility of continuing working from anywhere. Then, there are some that are seeking the best of both worlds — a hybrid system. 

For instance, social commerce unicorn Meesho announced a ‘work from anywhere’ policy, adding that employees who wished to come to the office have the option to work in its multiple satellite offices. 

In fact, Meesho has announced a first-of-its-kind Boundaryless Workplace Model where employees have the power to choose to work from home, the office, or any other location of their choice.

Ashish Kumar Singh, Chief Human Resources Officer, Meesho, said, “We have been championing many industry-first initiatives that have redefined conventional workplace norms and this new policy is a step in that direction. We have studied multiple future of work models to arrive at this novel boundaryless approach. In the future, this will also give talent across the globe an opportunity to build for Bharat with Meesho.”

However, not everyone is convinced about this borderless style.

A startup founder, who did not wish to be named, tells YourStory, “It is hard to build empathy in a remote working scenario. Especially in people who have been around for a while now and people who recently joined.” 

The HR head of a unicorn adds that hybrid seems like the ideal choice. 

They say, “Culture for any organisation ensures growth and consistent productivity. Without that, larger organisational goals and KRAs suffer. It is difficult to bring a balance and create stronger interpersonal relationships without meeting one another. Online and zoom conversations do not bring in the right connectivity and connections.”

Out of sight means out of mind 

Another HR executive told YourStory that onboarding and getting people entrenched into a new job remotely is harder. 

“When you hire someone, it is about what you sell to them about the vision, brand, and organisational need [of the company]. And while during the interview, you can bring out the base of the product and vision, the whole part of being part of a team and feeling a mission gets lost remotely,” said another founder. 

According to an HBR report, “Remote onboarding can be particularly difficult for people who are fairly new to the working world and transitioning from school to a job; they don’t get the opportunity to just see how work works. In general, new employees who work remotely are likely to find it harder to get things done — if you can’t watch what people are doing and if others can’t notice when you’re struggling, then everything about the job has to be taught more explicitly.”

This means interactions with colleagues becomes harder in a remote working environment. The report added that the longer you are separated from your colleagues, the farther you move away from the overall sense of the [business] mission. 

“In order to ensure that your organisation retains elements of its culture that you value, it’s important to engage frequently with your coworkers to stay aligned about your core values. Your interactions with the newest hires are particularly important. They’ll learn a lot both from their conversations with you as well their observations,” said the report.

Making collaboration tougher

The more you stay away from work and continue to work remotely, the harder it gets for collaborative work, some say.

Recently, Kunal Shah, Founder and CEO of CRED, tweeted, “Impact of WFH on youth is the same as the impact of children who study at home.” 

One of the founders YourStory spoke to agreed. “The movement of institutional knowledge becomes more difficult. It hinders the culture of informal conversations. When you look at people around you, you get to understand how they behave, how they react, and how they perceive and interact with the world around them,” they added. 

Further, looking at one another helps one understand the subtleties of body language, emotion, and other soft understandings that is simply not possible on Zoom. 

“It opens up opportunities for serendipity and helps move projects, brainstorming sessions. These cannot be scheduled over a call. These brainstorming sessions cannot be scheduled and broken down,” explains another HR executive.

In favour of working from home

However, despite the difficulties, many people don’t believe working from home is a disadvantage. 

"People don't progress at the office by doing a mundane job. They progress by finding new exciting alternatives," tweeted Kashif Raza, Founder of Bitinning.

One of the biggest benefits of working from home is the elimination of commute. Several reports point out that Indians travel close to two hours in a day to and from work. 

“Not only does the travel make it tiring, but also kills work-life balance,” says an employee of a unicorn on the condition of anonymity.

Another HR Executive adds it isn't about the freedom and the challenge of commuting; it also opens avenues for hiring across different parts of the country and the globe. “Earlier applications and jobs for those living in Tier II and III India weren't that open. Many large corporations wouldn’t look beyond the metros. But the pandemic has broken those notions and boundaries,” they explain.  

Another startup founder added that WFH has given more options in terms of hiring people with different skill sets and expertise levels. 

“It has created a thriving and flourishing gig economy, where people with good skill sets have found their worth and like working on different projects. And this works fantastically for high growth companies that are looking at multiple projects and experiments,” said the founder. 

Many realised that while it took time to adjust, working from home eventually brought in a better work-life balance. But, despite compelling reasons to work from home, organisations are looking at a more hybrid format.

“Getting people back to work is going to be a challenge. But a hybrid model and making that work is an important move forward,” concluded another founder. 

Only time can tell how we all adapt to this new normal. 

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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