Corporates are demanding longer working hours and there seems to be a high level of mistrust about offering flexible working
Thirty-five-year-old consultant Mayank Upadhyay has worked double his regular shift over the past week after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced him to work-from-home. While going to office would have meant a 9-6 work day, work-from-home means that he is technically online for almost 14 hours.
He says his human resource (HR) manager also is encouraging longer hours at the job. ‘You are at home, don’t switch off’ seems to be the message. At his employer, which is a multinational corporation (MNC), the number of hours put in everyday is taken into consideration at the time of appraisals.
With 236 positive reported COVID-19 cases in India, corporates across the country are encouraging employees to work-from-home. The reality, however, is that these firms want their staff to be logged in almost 24/7.
At a Mumbai-based financial services firm that has given alternate days work-from-home, employees are monitored every 15 minutes. If the laptop remains inactive, the employee is automatically sent a message to login again. While the idea is to follow business continuity plans, work-from-home also needs to be treated as regular work day.
Here, the more you miss out on the 15-minute inactive notifications, the longer your day gets. The assistant vice president at the firm quoted above says that he is surprised at the level of mistrust at his workplace.
Also Read: Is India Inc ready to offer work-from-home?
Parallels could be drawn with Japan that has a culture of overworking and judging employees on the number of hours they put into the office job on a daily basis. With the threat of COVID-19, the Japanese government has also requested employers to allow work-from-home, but several companies are grappling with this advisory. And have told HR consultants that they have ‘no other way of measuring employee productivity other than monitoring physical presence in the office’.
In India too, despite government advisory, several companies in the software and IT/BPO sector have refused to offer flexible work benefits. And those who have been forced are making employees do double-shifts.
HR managers of companies in India have over the past two weeks noted multiple cases of employees reporting fatigue due to working from home. This is primarily because companies that would have a 9 am login policy are now insisting that the staff start working from 8 am onward. The justification? You are at home.
Work-from-home is also challenging for teams as far as coordination is concerned. Those employees dealing with client servicing face a far tougher situation with conference calls taking up 40-50 percent of their average work-from-home day.
In cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru, where real estate is more expensive than other cities, owing a large apartment with a quiet corner to work is a luxury. Doing a cross-nation video call would mean that an individual needs space with proper lighting and a professional background to be able to attend these calls. With the neighbourhood coffee shops that were earlier used by employees on the move also shut, maintaining professional ethics is a concern.
Kolkata-based data analyst Dipti Sikdar who lives in a one bedroom flat with her two children says that she waits for her infant son to sleep so that she can attend to her daily client calls in peace. If there is external noise in her room during these calls, she is expected to wait for a time when there is lesser disturbance. This automatically means her day ends only by 10-10.30 pm during work-from-home as against 7 pm on a regular day.
Call drops, poor internet connectivity and background noise are added concerns that are stretching the already longer work hours.
What both companies and their HR managers need to understand is that work-from-home is an exact replica of working from office. Hence not just the work hours will have to be similar, the breaks entitled to an employee also need to continue.
Lunch breaks, coffee breaks and smoke breaks during an eight to nine hour office day help manage the monotony. While employees are expected to complete their daily tasks no matter what their location, they are entitled to breaks during the day as well.Corporates need to let go of the misconception that work-from-home is treated like an informal holiday by employees. If this trust deficit is bridged, overworked employees can also heave a sigh of relief.
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