Blog

Working from home: management pain or business gain?

April 8, 2013

Vinod Kumar   

Managing Director and Group CEO Tata Communications

There has been more than a storm in a tea cup following Marissa Mayer’s directive for people to show up in the Yahoo offices and cut back on working from home.  Her decision needs to be contextualised in the context of Yahoo’s stage in their journey as a business and more importantly as a new team that is trying to rally around a new strategy. Trying to generalise the decision will meaninglessly dilute both what Yahoo is attempting and the issue of flexible working conditions. The issue needs to be viewed and assessed in line with each individual business and also within the concerned societal framework.

In developing markets like India, I see the implementation of flexible working conditions or working from home (henceforth WFH) as a powerful business and social enabler.

From a business perspective, allowing limited / managed WFH will provide better work-life balance for the employee, improved productivity and cost efficiency for the company and unleash creativity all around – you won’t imagine the synapses that occur when you WORK from an outdoor cafe in a noisy street or find a quiet spot in a public garden or just your dining room (sans kids). WFH is equated to personal expression by younger employees and this translates to better retention and employee satisfaction, both prevalent areas for improvement in India. India is a unique market because it has a very young population – more than half being under the age of 25 (http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/view-from/a-view-from-india/index.html). We need to be looking at models and new ways of working that allow this generation more creative freedom and an assumed level of (structured) responsibility.

As a social enabler, WFH is a powerful catalyst. Some of the benefits include the opportunity to widen and diversify the employable population, lessen the stress on urban infrastructure and keep family units closer. It is the first one that I am particularly attached to – WFH creates more possibilities for women to fully / partially join the workforce, for inclusion of the elderly in certain industries where skills are short and bringing / taking work to lesser developed regions.

In her paper ‘Work-family balance policies’, Professor Margaret O’Brien of the University of East Anglia (UK) speaks of ‘the squeezed middle generation’ in many families which sees increased pressure on the rising female labour force. More woman are now engaged in business, but the pressure on having time to properly care for their young, old and unwell members of their families still remain a pressing challenge. We, as employers need to be sensitive to these very real nuances in order to ensure we are not losing out on valuable talent within the industry.
Some things to be kept in mind while implementing WFH:

  • Given that the concept is relatively new in India, the implementation needs to be
    accompanied with clear boundary conditions and training for both employees and
    managers (do’s & don’t’s, tips for effectiveness etc.).
  • We need to assist with the development of the “WFH etiquette” that is adapted to
    local conditions – simply transferring practices from one country to another will not
    work
  • Leverage the collaboration technology that is readily available to ensure efficiency
    and business velocity are not impaired in any way
  • Engage the employees while building your policy and be ready to shape it as you
    gain experience