(Bloomberg file)
(Bloomberg file)

Opinion | Fear of freedom

  • In NTPC Ltd, 18 senior level employees have been asked to work from home, ostensibly to 'optimize manpower', according to reports

In the private sector, a work-from-home culture is fast gaining popularity because of torturous daily commutes it saves employees and the productivity gains it offers employers. But the public sector still has a lot of catching up to do. In state-run power producer NTPC Ltd., 18 senior level employees have been asked to work from home, ostensibly to “optimize manpower", according to a report in the Hindu BusinessLine. But the employees are feeling uneasy. Their fear: this could distance them from the main work environment—a possible lead-up to their redundancy.

The resistance of NTPC’s employees revives a debate over whether a work-from-home culture should be promoted. It has undeniable advantages. In cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, where transport infrastructure is crumbling under the weight of a traffic overload, people often spend hours together trying to reach their workplace. This time could have been better used. In addition, real estate costs are high, which make it costly to maintain big offices. To tackle these issues, companies are permitting, even encouraging, their employees to work from home. After all, in today’s age of fast internet connectivity, technology allows employees to communicate with each other or with clients face-to-face through tools such as Skype or FaceTime. So why endure the pain of bumper-to-bumper traffic?

There could be negative effects too, such as employees feeling cut off, or suffering distractions at home. But, in general, the positives outweigh them. This is why some private firms, particularly startups, are trying to break down the conventional notion of an office as a must-have. The government, though, still appears stuck in the old paradigm. In June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted his ministerial colleagues to avoid working from home to set an example for others. True, being seen hard at work does influence the perceptions of onlookers, but how effectively one performs at a job is no longer a function of hours spent in an office.

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