Five years ago, when Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting after taking over as the CEO of Yahoo, there was a lot of debate over the merits and demerits of work from home (WFH) policies. For Delhi-based Yashica Verma, 35, a general manager at Philips India, this debate is a thing of the past. She works from home once a week: when she has to work on data for long hours or her day is blocked with Skype calls with global teams or, most importantly, when her daughter has a holiday or is unwell. “Since our team is spread across (time) zones, it is best to have Skype calls. I feel Skype calls are more time-bound and to the point," she says.

When Bengaluru-based Roshan Kadaramandalagi K., a development manager at SAP Labs India, joined the organization about a decade-and-a-half ago, there was no WFH policy in place. Now, the 38-year-old avails of the WFH option once or twice a month if his three-year-old twin daughters are unwell or if he has to deal with any ongoing work around the house. “These days we have efficient collaborative tools to work with others, like emails, chat messengers or conferencing with multiple colleagues. A lot of meetings are also among global teams these days—so how does it matter if you are home or at your workplace? You have to rely on technology anyway," he says.

Whether it’s for enabling employees to achieve better work-life balance or cutting down on real estate and transportation costs, companies are finding it increasingly beneficial to give prominence to policies that support flexible working hours and telecommuting. “With each seat becoming expensive for an organization to run within the office environment, the WFH concept continues to be in favour for new-age economies, start-ups and the IT industry, specifically for the younger talent in their early 20s right up to the early 30s," says Lohit Bhatia, CEO of Ikya, a division of business services provider Quess Corp. And given that we finally have the “digital backbones", as Bhatia terms it, to support this trend, he predicts that workplaces are going to look very different in the near future.

A must-have work perk

At the heart of these policies is the need to attract and retain the millennial workforce. “Millennials look at multiple careers and sometimes these can be dramatically different from each other. They want to balance work with personal life priorities such as studying, looking after children, family or pursuing a hobby or interest which could eventually become their second career. Hence, they have the need to be more productive at work and to create more time for self," says Neelesh Hundekari, partner, AT Kearney, a global management consulting firm.

53% of the respondents from India prefer telecommuting.- A 2016 survey on workplace flexibility by Randstad, an HR service provider

Delhi-based Armaan Seth, the head of human resources at Philips India, says: “Since working from home is seen as such as an attractive work perk, employees who have experienced it are less likely to leave for a firm that does not offer flexible work."

One way to encourage more employees to adopt this policy is to lead by example. “We ensure that the leadership team and function heads work from home periodically. Seeing them join calls and discussions remotely has gone a long way in setting an example and also eliminating any sense of doubt that colleagues may have," says Mahalakshmi, director, human resources, Mondelez India, which introduced its WFH policy over eight years ago.

And while millennials are the driving force for the WFH trend, such flexible policies have across the board appeal. Ashok Reddy, co-founder, managing director and CEO, TeamLease, a human resources service company, says in the recent years, “people above 50 years are also taking to this on account of having achieved a certain lifestyle. Now they are looking for meaningful assignments where they can contribute (and hence need some time off to manage these)."

To popularize this, some companies are not limiting the number of days that employees can avail through this policy. “We don’t keep track of who is working from home and do not expect logging in of flexi-hours," Mahalakshmi says. She says mutual responsibility inculcates goodwill among employees who exercise judgement on when and how to use this. “The benefits of WFH far outweigh any cons. Of course, there will be 1-2% cases of misuse," says Mahalakshmi. “In my three years with the company, I have heard one manager complain once."

Like Mondelez India, SAP Labs India, too, doesn’t monitor its employees’ entry and exit time. And even though its work from home policy is for one day a week, it is left to the discretion of the employee and their manager to extend this. “Trust is an important factor when a company allows freedom and flexibility to employees. The question of misuse does not arise as employees appreciate and acknowledge the SAP culture," says Mahesh Nayak, chief operating officer, SAP Labs India.

Roshan of SAP says WFH ensures work-life balance for employees. Photo: Jithendra M/Mint
Roshan of SAP says WFH ensures work-life balance for employees. Photo: Jithendra M/Mint

As Roshan puts it, a work from home policy is a workplace essential today and a way of ensuring that work-life balance is a priority.

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Home-work

Appoint a dedicated area

You need some level of privacy for your home office. Ideally, the space needs to be a quiet area, such as a spare room with a door as it can help filter noise from the rest of the house.

Establish office hours

Although flexibility is a key advantage while working from home, it’s important to establish a schedule. Typically, keeping standard office hours will help you stay focused and help your clients, friends and family know when you can be reached and when you should not be disturbed.

Stay connected

When you are working from your home office, it’s important to stay connected with your colleagues. Good communication practices are vital while working remotely.

—Neha Bagaria, founder & CEO, JobsForHer, an online platform which enables women on a professional break to restart their careers

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