Anandorup Ghose talks to Tamanna Inamdar about the complexities of working from home and the flaws in productivity metrics. Edited excerpts:
What trends that you are seeing? Does it make sense for businesses to bring employees back into office, pay rents again? Are workplaces realising work-from-home actually turned out to be economical?
I want to take a step back here; when you talk about work-from-home, it is interesting because all of this discussion on work-from-home pertains to a very small percentage of the entire country’s workforce. People who work in manufacturing, people who work in places that have to deliver stuff, retail etc., they have been going to work every single day for the last one-and-a-half years. So the work-from-home phenomenon is only for those who are office goers, whose jobs can be done from a desktop. It’s they who have started working from home. And for this population, there is a wide variance, there is a group who have the comforts of a laptop and a separate room and space, etc. For those that do not, productivity has definitely suffered and not because people do not want to work, it is because their infrastructure does not allow them to work at their best. A large percentage of our population is paid less than five lakhs, when you are paid that much it is not like you can afford a lot of facilities at home to be able to effectively work. That is something I think organisations also realise. The big change, if you ask me, is not about work-from-home or from office, it’s the fundamental acceptance that it is okay to have people work-from-home from time to time. But, if you ask any organisation, the intent is eventually to get people back into office, to get collaboration restarted which is essentially the whole point of having an office to begin with.
The big productivity question is key here. There are a lot of studies out there on productivity, some say that it has gone down, but if you speak to employees they think it has definitely gone up because they feel like they are on the clock all the time, since there is no real physical separation between work and home. Do you think that will be the big gauge — the fact that your staff is accessible at all times?
Yes it is a plus point for the employer and not necessarily for employees. On the productivity point, I think the unfortunate fact we have to understand is that this is too short a time period to assess productivity. First of all, in the productivity ratio there is a numerator – which is the output – and a denominator – which is the number of hours put in, people, etc. Output has been in flux for the last couple of quarters, it was great for a period then it slumped, went up, slumped again. In such a situation, you cannot really predict, you can’t really compute productivity to say if it has gone up or gone down.
The second thing is, if you take productivity purely as tasks being completed, then I think their productivity has not necessarily suffered as such. Companies have filed their end of year accounts, they have been closed. Most companies have completed all their end of year processes on time. Companies that support other client organisations and run their processes have also been doing that reasonably well. There have been no client escalations per se that Indian companies have. So, I think if you just take it purely as are people putting in time and getting the output done to that extent it is happening. There will obviously be ups and downs. There will be variances depending on time, location, etc.