Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered his council of ministers some advice about the virtues of working diligently. He has asked them to get to office on time, interact with citizens more often and involve junior ministers in decision-making. All good tips, might we say. But one of his exhortations seems to be taking work practices in the opposite direction to where the private sector is heading. Modi has asked his ministers to avoid working from home. That is not a piece of advice many in corporate India are giving employees in this day and age. With growing congestion making daily commutes harder, many employees are choosing to work from home and reduce stress. The benefits are aplenty. It saves time for more productive work, allows people to spend quality time with their families and enables them to work in a comfortable environment where the boss is not always watching. These benefits help raise employee satisfaction levels, leading to gains even for employers, such as lesser employee turnover and real estate costs.
Until not too long ago, there were barriers to working from home, but improvements in communication technology have helped dismantle them. You don’t need to be in an office anymore to carry out your daily work. A laptop or even a smartphone serves just as well. Employees are FaceTiming or interacting on WhatsApp with each other. It does not matter whether they are in office, at home or any other place. They can meet with relative ease at a time convenient to all and discuss reports, results or strategies. Salespersons are making presentations through Skype to their bosses and even clients who may be located in a different corner of the world. So, no need to undertake tedious travel, spend money and precious time to reach a prospective client who may eventually not even add business. Given the developments in internet connectivity, virtual world communication has become just as fast and reliable as meeting colleagues and clients face-to-face. Besides, there is a fundamental shift in the way businesses are operating. Many of them are outsourcing services to contractors to keep costs down and statutory liabilities minimal. Others don’t care where employees work from, as long as performance targets are met. Also, India’s rapid growth has meant that more and more of our companies are expanding offshore operations. Their employees are travelling overseas more frequently—to on-site establishments of clients, for instance—making working from different locations more of a necessity than a matter of choice.
Startups are at the forefront of this shift. But old school businesses are also increasingly adopting flexible work policies. According to a study by the International Workplace Group, a provider of outsourced office services, more than two-thirds of global employees work remotely every week, and more than half do so for at least half of the week. India, too, is moving in the same direction. Ask any Bengalurian, and he would speak of the torture faced every day while commuting to work, usually taking hours of crawling through the city’s choking traffic. Many companies are starting to see the benefits and encouraging employees to operate from home, at least some days of the week, if not all. The government too should adopt such a model. Given the benefits, it can yield significant improvements in the delivery of public services to citizens.