While remote working is not new, the focus it’s receiving now, not just in India but globally, is unprecedented, and it has become the key to business continuity
By Sameer Garde
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 (DoT) relaxed regulations for IT service providers, to allow employees to work from home. The central government ordered 50% of its employees to work from home; the Assam government instructed teachers to impart lessons over WhatsApp. Different e-learning platforms are 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 to work. Bandwidth issues, power cuts, etc. can make the work environment unproductive. Here, leaders must set an example of empathy and understanding, while helping such employees and offering them the 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 one km 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. Finally, and that is my favourite: sustainability. A distributed workforce makes cities more liveable and sustainable.
The WFH model has several upsides, but it takes time for ‘new normal’ 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 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.
The author Sameer Garde is President of Cisco India and SAARC, responsible for sales, operations, growth initiatives, and investments in strategic alliances in the region. His keen understanding of technology and market opportunities enables him to drive transformation and capture critical market transitions.