By Mohan Krishnamoorthy
A recent HBR article argued for working from home (WFH)and generated a lot of buzz in social media and in corporate internal forums (Is It Time to Let Employees Work from Anywhere?). The article quoted several sources that highlighted how worker productivity increased by an average of 13%, apparently due to a reduction in break time and sick days combined with a more comfortable work environment. Interestingly, this article comes about a year after an HBR survey made an opposite argument “Remote Workers Are More Disengaged and More Likely to Quit.” That survey seems to echo what’s still a norm in the corporate world.
Work from home policy, or lack thereof is a trend that evokes a lot of passionate discussions in online forums and corporate discussions alike. Tech workers have been at the forefront of WFH conversations since much of IT work can be done remotely if a person has access to good voice and data connectivity. However, there continue to be pockets of resistance in the tech community to adopt WFH policies. Technologists and developers from around the globe aspire to migrate to Silicon Valley to be able to network, ideate and evangelize startups and innovations. They still wish to be physically in the Valley rather than work remotely for Silicon Valley startup from Boston or Bengaluru.
Take the case of the Indian IT and ITES that employs 10-12 million tech workers concentrated in dozens of Tech Parks in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Noida, Pune and a couple of other metros. Housing and public infrastructure for transportation and other basic needs hasn’t kept pace with the mushrooming of such a high concentration of Tech-Parks leading to perennial traffic jams and poor quality of life. Despite these challenges, IT Managers expect their workers to commute for hours to clock-in and be present in the office during work-days.
Here are 10 reasons why Indian IT continues to discourage WFH
1. Out of sight, out of mind – Mid-level managers have long feared that employees who are not in an office, working and interacting with peers may feel dis-engaged. This is a challenge for both employees and managers alike, as echoed in the HBR survey.
2. Hard to Trust, harder to verify: IT managers find it hard to embrace Regan’s dictum- trust but verify – since many of them are unaccustomed to remotely verify work tasks delegated to their subordinates.
3. MBWA – IT managers are accustomed to working with their global peers, customers and clients remotely but still prefer to Manage By Wandering Around. They find it unnerving to manage virtual teams, especially given the challenge of Regan’s dictum highlighted previously.
4. Feedback is more effective done face-to-face – Many mid-level IT managers are accustomed to yelling and dressing down their subordinates, and may find it unnerving to do so remotely. Given the pervasiveness of webcams and audio recorders, they may also be hesitant to have their antics recorded and shared on social media
5. Motivating Junior folks team members – Indian IT continues to be bottom-heavy with millennials dominating the workforce. While they may be adept in technology development and programming, millennials require continual coaching and mentoring to manage complex IT systems for global multinationals. Such mentoring and motivating requires teams to be working out of an office together
6. Practical logistics – many young professionals migrate to work in IT parks in Bengaluru, Hyderabad etc. from other Indian cities. They live in Paying Guest and other shared accommodations where they may not have the facilities or privacy to “work from home” for hours at a stretch.
7. Peer influence – Young techies thrive and build a sense of camaraderie with their peers. This may include commuting to work, going for lunch or brainstorming over coffee breaks or at the office water coolers.
8. Work-life-balance – Millennials and young professionals value work-life balance and they don’t want to be tethered to a network while working remotely. ‘Logging off’ after work is a ritual they may be getting used to in their first or second job, and may associate remote logging-in as unpaid overtime.
9. Comfort of Working side-by-side– Techies love to whiteboard and collaborate while troubleshooting or just peer at the screen of colleagues who may be stuck while debugging. While tools for remote collaboration
10. Easy distractions – with ubiquitous access to social media, it is easy enough for digital workers to be distracted. Junior members of teams may be accustomed to being supervised and may find it challenging to stay focused while working remotely alone.
While WFH policies aren’t the norm in Indian IT, most managers prepare for a few notable exceptions.
• A Bandh or other civic incidents impacting law and order situations. Given the fragmented political governance, Indian cities periodically experience public Bandh or civic shutdowns. It is far easier to accommodate employees remotely than having to explain to clients and customers that the Indian office is shutting down due to some local incident
• Accommodating those with personal constraints – Employees sometimes need to care for a sick family member, and managers may accommodate such exceptions on a case-by-case basis
Bottomline: Tools and Technologies for remote working are advancing at a fast pace; add to this the pervasiveness of high-speed networks and WIFI and one can see how WFH policies may be ready to take off. However, for some of the reasons highlighted above, the corporate IT work culture hasn’t caught up with global practices; at least not when it comes to WFH.
About the Author
Mohan Krishnamoorthy is an Indian American technology executive with a multinational company. His viewpoints and papers have been published in several international technical and nontechnical journals.
He can be reached at [email protected] or https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohanbabuk/