There are moments in time, where singularly pervasive events have redefined everything we once took for granted—for instance, getting up, getting dressed, and going to work. In the last few weeks, the core concepts of going to work and how we work have changed. While remote working is not new, the focus it’s receiving now, not just in India but globally, is unprecedented.
What’s interesting is that we are witnessing business and government leaders taking bold decisions to enable work from home, something that seemed outlandish just a few weeks ago. In India, the Department of Telecommunications relaxed regulations for IT service providers, to allow employees to work from home. The Central Government ordered 50 percent of its employees to work from home; the Assam Government instructed teachers to impart lessons over WhatsApp. Byju’s is offering free access to its learning program, and more doctors are treating people over video. Many of these changes happened almost overnight.
The world is quickly transitioning and getting used to working from home.
So, what does this mean for employees and employers, and more importantly, the economy?
For employees, there is a direct impact on their daily lives, giving them more flexibility and time with families while working in an environment where they feel at ease. Recently, a friend spoke about how he played a board game with his family after many years! I have seen a boost in productivity and innovation within my teams. Last week, I held a six-hour-long virtual workshop over Webex, with a flurry of ideas emerging from every participant. As a bonus, I now know whose dog loves sleeping on the couch, whose kid is just learning to walk, and who can cook! That’s the beauty of working and connecting from home – it humanizes the employee experience. However, for a lot of employees, their homes may not be very conducive for work. Bandwidth issues, power cuts, etc. may translate to an unproductive work environment. Here, leaders must set an example of empathy and understanding, while helping such employees and offering them flexibility to work the way that suits them best.
For companies, apart from the obvious benefits of reduced operational costs, this would mean having a more diverse pool of talent, which will have a positive impact on revenue and innovation. For example, as companies start getting used to the idea of WFH, they will become open to employing gig workers who can contribute from anywhere. This trend could also bring more women into the workforce. Commuting to work still happens to be one of the biggest challenges for working women; according to India’s 2011 Census, 60% of women limited their job opportunities to within 1km of their homes. WFH could help move the needle towards an equally distributed workforce. Additionally, by casting the net across geographies, companies can gain in-depth, real-time insights into evolving market realities.
Lastly, the economy – as companies start actively building a geographically agnostic and diverse workforce, the economy will benefit from this transformation. For instance, if the Indian IT sector, which employs over 4.5 million people, were more dispersed, rather than concentrated in Bangalore, Hyderabad or other IT hubs, it would drastically reduce pressure on city infrastructure and lead to balanced economic growth across the country. More importantly, as more women join the workforce, it will boost the overall GDP. Besides, remote working will create new business models and revenue streams – I plan to write about this separately in my next blog. Finally, and my favourite – sustainability. A distributed workforce makes cities more liveable and sustainable.
The WFH model has several upsides, but it takes time for ‘new normals’ to take hold. At this inflection point, leaders must help navigate unchartered waters and enable a smooth transformation, to which I see two primary challenges.
- The first is data security. As work boundaries expand, it’s vital to ensure that the security infrastructure is also extended to support remote working.
- The second challenge is facilitating a mind-shift. A departure from the norm can be daunting. This is where leaders, especially in India, where work culture is more traditional, must proactively tackle teething issues by leading from the front.
While it is inspiring to see companies collectively shift to new working models, some people, especially those who help manage our buildings, serve food at cafeterias, our logistics staff, etc., cannot work from home. I applaud Prime Minister Modi’s address to the nation, urging everyone to support our communities by paying full wages to our hourly workers, and we at Cisco fully support that. I urge everyone to do whatever they can to support the communities we live in. This once-in-a-lifetime fight will not be won by an individual, company, or nation, but by 7.8 billion people coming together and standing as one.
As I sign off, I would love to hear your thoughts on how you, your company, customers, and partners are adapting to this challenge. Do share and stay safe.
Read Sameer Garde’s blog on Business In The Times of Coronavirus – Discontinuity, Disruption and Digitalisation
Sameer Garde is President of Cisco’s India and SAARC theatre. As President, Sameer is responsible for sales, operations, growth initiatives and investments in strategic alliances in the theatre. Over a career spanning 28 years, Sameer has led several top-performing organizations with an enduring track record across multiple roles and regions. His keen understanding of technology and market opportunities enables him to drive transformation and capture critical market transitions. A proven leader, Sameer has built and managed global and regional businesses in India, Europe, USA and Asia. Sameer is a highly respected leader who maintains a commitment to professional development, and inclusion and diversity in the workplace. He holds an engineering degree from IIT Delhi and an MBA from IIM Kolkata. Sameer is a long-distance runner, amateur photographer, and driving-holiday enthusiast.