Work from Home Practices & COVID-19: Future Implications.
WLB refers to the balance between work and life. Where workrelated constructs such as work engagement, time spent as working hours, and life-related constructs like family, personal interest, and social activities may be brought in balance to bring harmony between the two. Organisations are continuously engaged in researches to find out measures and methods that could be adopted to maintain this balance in the context of its employees. Out of several steps introduced to cater to this need, one is Work From Home(WFH). WFH is not an alien term for the service sector. It was first introduced in organizations as a help extended to its employees considering it as a tool for maintaining WLB. It has been a practice more in Western cultures and companies than in India. It was a predominant system in pre-industrial society and coexisted with the factory system in the nineteenth century. It is still practiced in many Asian countries where people are engaged in craftwork (Shamir, 1985). WFH practices were never popular in Indian organizational cultures though, but companies like TCS, Accenture, IBM, and Yahoo were among the first few ones that officially started this practice years back. News reports claim that in International Business Machines (IBM) India and Hewlett-Packard (HP) India work from home is an integral part of the employees' work life. WFH was a choice for the employees. It came out to be fruitful in retaining women employees. WFH helped women employees as well who had to quit their jobs and careers due to familial restraints. It emerged out an opportunity for the women employees to start again or continue with their work.Though WFH practice is not feasible for all the sectors working nationwide like there are sectors where we have frontline workers engaged in such as medical and paramedical workers, policemen, people engaged in defense services, supply chain workers, etc cannot work from home, but if we throw light on to who are the ones who could engage in work from home practices we could see they are the lower-level clerical worker involved mainly in data entry, retrieval and typing or the highly efficient skilled workers like the one working in IT companies, telecompanies people involved in high-level program designing, research scholars, etc.WFH since time has been a debatable issue. It was first investigated by Soloman and Soloman and from then several researches have come up in for and against work from home (WFH) practices in terms of productivity, flexibility and creativity on one hand and in terms of limited organisational commitment, social interaction, and feedback on the other respectively. As discussed the companies which were already engaged in WFH practices view this as a help extended to their employees. Providing flexibility in terms of the workplace proves helpful in retaining a talented workforce of women employees. WFH provides a great opportunity for the women who had to quit their jobs but with this can join and continue their work. Studies investigating in the discussed phenomena have revealed that many organizations support this viewpoint. These companies portray work from home as help that they extend to their employees in balancing work and life (Sabharwal et al, 2011). Many other Information Technology (IT) companies make similar claims. For example, firms such as Avtar-I Win specifically aim to promote home-based working and other flexible work practices to help women join and sustain in the workplace. Apart from this, WFH practices can have also certain mutual benefits for the employee and the organization and their combined effect. Increased productivity in terms of personal engagement for the employee on a personal level along with increased productivity of the employees for the organization can be a direct impact of WFH. Shamir (1985) in his paper on Work-at-home and quality of working life wrote about the data of work from home that indicates that employees level of autonomy apparently increases by the shift in the workplace resulting in a reduced level of monitoring and subsequently availing the employee's flexibility in the choice of working hours and work patterns. The cons could not be ignored though. WFH practices can provide autonomy but at the same time, they could contrarily affect team work. With respect to team performance, micro level behaviors lead to macro level outcomes in non additive fashion (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). Above and beyond individual efficiency, costs of coordination, control, and monitoring are also constituents of team performance (DeNisi, 2000). The data from HP says that approximately 25% of its employees work from home but at the same time officials reported that when coming to teamwork, WFH is a challenge. The monitoring of employees in terms of their work engagement becomes difficult. At this point, it becomes the responsibility of the employees to be self-disciplined and accountable for their work when working from home. Also, social relations at the workplace also are known to be among the major sources of job satisfaction (Albertson, 1978; Jahoda, 1979; Locke, 1976) and WFH practices can impair social relations.
As far as the organisations are concerned they are being benefitted with the increased productivity of their employees, reduced absenteeism, and reduced input for maintaining a well equipped working place. Lowered face to face interaction among individuals would also result in a reduction in organisational phenomena like politics involved, rumors, counterproductive work behavior(CBW). Much of the research has shown that WFH has impacted over the WLB of an employee. According to Hayman (2005), work-life balance has 3 components: (1) work interfering personal life (WIPL), (2) personal life interfering work (PLIW) and (3) work/personal life enhancement (WPLE). It is assumed that WFH practice will enhance WLB by reducing the factors which contribute to WIPL. Flexi hours available at home, the time saved in traveling from home to office when reduced can have a positive impact and a reduction in work interfering personal life. But this reality cannot be denied that PLIW will also be one scenario in WFH. For example, women employees sometimes find it distracting to work at home because of certain homebound duties. It is important to note down here that 'Flexi place' could probably be a better alternative for WFH practices as here it is on the convenience of the employees to choose between 'the home' their 'workplace' or some other place depending upon their requirements.
The fact that not all jobs performed in an organisation can be executed sitting at home, should not be neglected. In broad terms and looking into who could engage in WFH practices it could be assessed that these are the white-collar employees who could get engaged in work from home. Viewing it as help extended only to a limited number of employees it could bring a divide among the employees. A sector of organization enjoying the flexibility can make the other group feel relatively deprived and reduced in-person interaction among employees would broaden this gap. Relative deprivation of part of other groups can germinate negatively affect the privileged group which could sometimes be threatening for the growth of an organization. Studies reveal that individuals feeling relatively deprived of becomes low at motivation, morale, and commitment that an organization would never appreciate in their employees. Research conducted over WFH practices also reveals that reduced social interaction results in less cohesive orgainzational culture. " Social disconnection has been shown to develop between employees working from home and office workers because working from home allows employees to distance themselves from work relationships at the office (Collins et al., 2016). This might result in a less cohesive organisational culture." Such factors can be attributed to why such an innovative and seemingly effective tool applicable for maintaining WLB has still not been widely accepted. A limited number of companies provide the flexibility of working from home to their employees. Pursuant to some negative impacts of working from home, Yahoo that was among one of the first organisation which introduced work from home later banned this practice in 2013. Around 12,000 employees were asked either to work from office or not to work. When criticized for the same the CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer defended the ban stating that people are more collaborative and innovative when working together in...
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