Work From Home Policy gaining acceptance despite challenges

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New Delhi, June 9, 2020: Work from Home, which was forced on employees because of the imposition of nationwide lockdown from March 25, is likely to gain acceptance among corporates post-COVID-19 despite several challenges, says JLL India CEO and Country Head Ramesh Nair.

Citing a survey done by the global property consultant, Nair said that an average 13-14 per cent of employees may permanently work from home post the coronavirus pandemic and that may impact demand for office spaces.

However, office space may also de-densify of to maintain social distancing, Nair added, compensating for any possible dip in demand due to Work From Home.

Nair was speaking at a webinar organised by Workplace Trends India founder Tushar Mittal. 

Sanjeev Mohanty, Managing Director, South Asia, Middle East And North Africa, Levi Strauss and Company; and Shiv Agrawal, Managing Director, ABC Consultants were the two other speakers in the webinar titled “Will work from home be the new normal”.

Work from home has its own challenges

At the outset, Nair listed several challenges posed by Work From Home during this over two month lockdown period, right from physical infrastructure to internet connectivity to data privacy to employees’ productivity to psychological impact on workforce. 

“My biggest concern about Work from Home is productivity. 99% of the corporate workforce could be living in small houses with families and don’t have proper space to work from home. We don’t have proper infrastructure, internet, power and telecom and other required facilities to support Work from Home. The concept of home office is there in Europe and the US, but not even 1%-2% of employees would have space for a home office in India.”

 “The other biggest challenge that is emerging is unplugging post work hours and this is impacting the psychology of employees. There are various reports which suggest that the last three months of work from home has resulted in loneliness and anxiety among employees,” said Nair.

Countering Nair, Shiv Agrawal said the sudden announcement of lockdown made things more difficult and if companies and employees had got more time to prepare, the result could have been different. “Companies and individuals had less than one week to prepare for Work from Home. Companies had moved thousands of employees so that they could work from home, and if I look back now, 12 weeks later, it still seems to be working okay for lots of the companies. Is it perfect? Not at all. Is it broadly sustainable? I would say the answer is an impacting Yes. I think we are going through a tectonic shift in how work is delivered,” said Agrawal.

Work from home may continue

Despite challenges, both employers and employees are looking forward to working from home even after situations get normal. 

“We need to distinguish between situations like work from home in the lockdown and work from home in a normal situation. The concept is not new concept; it’s been there since long. But there is a change in the mindset of management and employers; they are now seeing possibilities and gaining confidence in the concept,” said Agrawal.

Nair shared the outcome of few surveys to highlight how Work For Home policy will be adopted going forward. 

“Whatever I say cannot be considered in general, because work from home will definitely vary depending on region, industries, organizations and so on. JLL did an internal survey with all our employees globally. 5% of the employees said we only want to work from home. 65% of the employees said we would like to work from the office as well as home, but we need a good balance. 30% said that we only want to work from the office,” said Nair.

“We also asked our corporate clients who occupy nearly 70 millions of office space that once things get back to normal, what percentage of your work force at a given point of time would work from home permanently and the answer we got varies between 4% to 22%. So at an average, we assume that real estate demand of about 13% to 14% could get impacted and go to work from home. Another finding from the survey indicates that 64% of respondents who did not have any work from home policy pre-Covid, wanted to incorporate that in the future. Also, compared to pre-covid era, the number of respondents who said they want to work from home for more than two days in a week, actually doubled. So certainly we will see an uptake in work from home policies, added Nair.

According to Sanjeev Mohanty of Levi Strauss, “Employees should be given the choice, whether they want to work from home or they want to work from office. Work from home will help both employers as well as employees in terms of enhancing productivity as employees will save time of commute. It will also reduce cost and effort for both.

More space in offices

While work from home is gaining ground, lots of employers see a need to scale up the usable area for each employee. 

“Since open office culture came in and an individual cabin structure vanished, from office space of 250 square feet per employee it came down to 70 square feet per employee. Whether Covid remains or not, people will redesign their offices with more space per employee,” said Mohanty.

Nair echoed the thoughts, he said, “ We had a discussion with a very large American banking client, the client said that their average space standard per employee used to be 120 square feet pre-Lehman and it became 100 square feet today. They have now decided to increase the average space to 150 square feet per employee globally, including India.”

According to Tushar Mittal, founder and Managing Director of SKV, “While Work from Home may see an uptake, it is not going to impact demand for modern office spaces. We will see a surge in demand for redesigning office spaces to maintain and incorporate statutory guidelines or international standards and practices. Companies will make changes in their offices depending on their Work from home policies.