While the work from home model comes with problems such as internet connectivity, increased working hours, disconnectedness with fellow employees and burnout, for some, it has its perks.

A woman in a plaid shirt wearing a mask and working on her laptop while sitting on a bedImage for representation | Picxy.com/Abir
Features WFH Friday, September 17, 2021 - 16:04

It’s no secret that the pandemic has turned the working experience on its head, as the work-from-home model became the new norm for legions of workers around the world. While some set up home offices in bedrooms and on dining tables, others packed up and moved back to hometowns to save money that would have normally gone towards work-related expenses or the cost of urban life. But even as the pandemic continues 18 months on, some companies are asking workers to turn to a post-2020 work life back in the office. However, for some, that requirement, which was once taken for granted, has become untenable.

Duraimurugan, who hails from Chennai and is a joint manager of Bengaluru-based IT start-up Opt It, says many employees of the company have quit for the same reason recently. Once the pandemic hit, many people moved back to their hometowns, as they could save the money that would normally have gone towards rent, fuel, food etc. They are also able to spend more time with their families. Duraimurugan himself, who is currently in Chennai, adds, “On average, I would spend 30-32% of my monthly salary on food, rent, travel etc. This amount has been saved in the last 14 months. If I have to spend it again, I am hesitant.”

“My son is at home now, he’s not going to school. It used to be very hard for me to spend time with him even on the weekend if I was in the office. WFH has made people more and more comfortable with day-to-day activities for the past year,” he says. In the last quarter alone, Opt It saw an attrition rate of 32%, mainly due to employees’ unwillingness to return to office from their hometowns.

According to a survey by FlexJobs, 65% of the 2,100 people surveyed said that they would prefer to be full-time remote workers. The same survey said that the top reasons for this are lack of commute and increased opportunities for saving. In addition, an important advantage of working from home is the opportunity to balance work and personal life.

Sindhuja, a 30-year-old woman living in Bengaluru, has a packed schedule that involves waking up at 4.30 am every day, making breakfast and lunch for family, and packing lunch for her husband to take to the office. By 8 am, she finishes the laundry, goes for a walk, bathes her children (aged 7 and 2 years) and makes sure that they are ready to start their day by 8.30 am. After which, she logs into work at an e-commerce company, where the tasks for the day are assigned at around 9.30 am.

Though this has brought an increased workload and extended timings, Sindhuja, along with many others, have gotten so used to this model that if they are called back to offices, which are starting to reopen, they would rather quit in favour of a fully remote job.

Earlier, she had to send her younger child to daycare, where she would often fall sick and not eat well. “I'm able to look after my both kids and I am able to take breaks or move around according to my convenience,” she added. 

Work from home and burnout

While some have found a convenient rhythm for themselves by working from home, research has shown that this model has led to an increased workload due to the blurred lines between home and work. This has led to as many as one in three Indians reporting burn out, a study by LinkedIn says. In the report, titled the Future of Work 2021, close to 75% of the 1,108 professionals surveyed said that they were negatively impacted due to the WFH model, as they were not able to learn from their peers and had less face-time with the leaders of their organisations.

Anjana*, a 22-year-old professional from Indore, was working at a PR firm in Bengaluru for a year before the pandemic hit. However, like for many individuals, the WFH model blurred the line between work and personal time, and she found herself working from 6 am to 8 pm, even on weekends. This took a severe toll on her, and the second lockdown imposed in Karnataka at the end of April 2021 prompted her to rethink her career, and led to her quitting her job in June. “I took a hard look at my life when the second lockdown was announced. I realised I really didn't want to pursue PR and definitely not work like this for the rest of my life,” she said.

Women, who often bear the brunt of household and childcare work in a family, can be disproportionately impacted. A study conducted by the Economix Consulting Group (ECG) on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working women in urban India found that the work from home model has caused disruptions in the traditional work day. “Disruptions in routine have made typical schedules uncommon, and respondents having a conventional workday of 7-10 hours has shrunk from 57% to 35%,” it said. However, at the same time, there was a 3% increase in women working all seven days a week.

The survey also stated that 57% of respondents reported a change in workload after the pandemic, out of which 73% have experienced an increase in workload. For those who have constant access to the internet, working from home often means taking frequent breaks during work hours, and extending timings beyond their normal office hours. 

Anjana is now working with a non-profit organisation for a project. She is also back home in Indore with her family, and her current job is remote as well. She says that now, she is able to work at her own pace, and this has done wonders to help her maintain her work-life balance.

“Although I've returned to my hometown and am living with my family, I'm able to take time for myself. I can take care of my dog, which is super important for me. I'm able to start work at my convenience and log off on time,” she said. 

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