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Home > Business > Special

Working from home, India's latest fad

Dhvani Desai, Outlook Money | March 22, 2007

Long hours of commute every day, dripping in sweat, scrambling in and out of crowded buses and trains to reach office on time. Or simply switching on your computer while in your pyjamas? The choice isn't hard to make. Welcome to the joys of working from home.

Many employers today have started recognising the needs of their employees, and working from home has been incorporated into the HR policies of several organisations. Employee discipline is no more about attending office from nine to five, six days a week. Flexibility is the key word now.

Who can benefit? While the option of working from home is a boon to a lot of employees who are hampered by the commute, the biggest beneficiaries are women and those with health problems.

Dilip Gore, 34, a senior project manager at Wipro, has some health issues. His company allows him to work from home and he needs to go to office only once a week. "Working from home saves me a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted in travelling," says a grateful Gore.

Manjula S Venugopal (35), an advisory system analyst with IBM India, has a similar option. "I opted for this when my husband had fractured his legs. I didn't have anyone else to take care of him," she says. "My seven-year-old son, who had never seen his mother come home before bedtime, now finds her dropping him to school and picking him up from there every day. 'I love mama working from home,' he says. I save nearly three hours of time by not commuting to and from office. And I am able to catch up with my friends, family and, of course, my books."

'Teleworking', as this is called, is a very popular concept abroad and both the organisation and the employee benefit from it. It has been used as an effective disaster management tool so that businesses can continue even if there are natural calamities, terrorist attacks, or emergency situations. In fact, teleworking also contributes greatly by easing congestion in major cities and helps create a less polluting environment.

How to get such a job? Which are the companies that allow you this option? Well, more than companies, it's the kind of work you do that will decide whether it would be possible for you. "Any job that is information-based, is dependent solely on the employee concerned, calls for minimum on-line supervision, has a minimum amount of unpredictable face-to-face contact, and is physically portable offers good prospects for teleworking," says Ganesh Chella, CEO of  Totus Consulting, a Chennai-based recruitment firm.

This includes artists, desktop publishers, photographers, data entry operators, transcribers, engineers, programmers, IT professionals, sales people, web designers, writers, translators and translation editors, out-bound call centre employees, medical summary writers, customer service callers and representatives.

But, if your work requires supervision, significant equipment and infrastructure, and a lot of team interaction, then it would be difficult for you to operate from the isolation of your house.

Joseph John, vice-president (talent engagement & development), Wipro, says, "Although employees from any function can work from home, the HR manager decides this depending on the nature of job, maturity of the employee to handle job from home, and the likely impact on customer data and security."

Employees who are required to be present in the office due to customer lab or other restricted data networks, or who have face-to-face meetings frequently cannot work from home in most organisations. For IBM, it's a different theory. Persons from all departments, including the CEO, software professionals, marketing director, HR, sales and finance, are allowed to work from home. "Face-to-face is an important function. However, there is no job that needs it 24x7," says Harini Chittu, vice-president (application services global delivery), IBM India.

Does age matter? As far as the age of the employee is concerned, most companies don't have set criteria.  "Usually, a person who has been with a company for long is given this option more easily," says Amit Adarkar, CEO, Synovate India, a pan-Indian research company.

At IBM, as long as a person can connect from home and is also productive, he is eligible to work from home. In Wipro, on the other hand, an employee with at least three years or more experience is allowed the option of working from home. "Most employees who opt for working from home are in their mid or late 20s or early 30s. Typically, these are mid-level employees. However, there could be exceptions," says John.

Any change in salary? The salary component is a big concern for many. Shivani Kapur, 35, who is a research analyst with Synovate India, says her salary structure changed when she started working from home. "I am still on the payrolls, but my salary is not regular. It depends on the number of projects I take up," she says. Adarkar says that employees may lose 10-15 per cent of what their peers may get. However, most companies do not really alter the salary structure as long as you are well connected with the company. In fact, some companies even offer an additional allowance for setting up and maintaining offices at home. "As long as you are an employee of the company and you are productive, you will be treated like any other employee," says Chittu.

Which is better? The question that dogs most organisations is whether working from home leads to loss of productivity. Experts concede that there are a few risks and problems. Managers might perceive loss of control, and employees might miss face-to-face interaction with the team. They would even feel lonely at times. They might also feel they are not part of the organisation, and may be missing out on important happenings.

Also, there is a fear that "out of sight" means "out of mind". Organisations also worry about data integrity. "There is a certain difference in the kind of work you do when you work from home and when you go to office," says Gore. He adds: "Not all responsibilities can be discharged if you are away from office. For instance, managing a team. Also, in an office environment, there are more chances of channelising your thoughts and energy productively. As long as I am not well, working from home is a comfortable option. But once I get better, I would certainly prefer to work from my office."

At times, a formal agreement is made with employees to visit the office at least once a week. However, for Kapur, her visit to office could vary from twice a week to once in a month, depending on the work pressure and requirements. "But I put in more hours at home than what I used to put in while working in office."

Another theory is that the number of hours put in office may not necessarily contribute to final productivity. "A person who puts in eight hours of work every day in office, may be able to contribute the same amount as a person putting in four hours of work from home. And companies have recognised this aspect," points outs Anis Uttanwala, CEO, Character Sketches, a Mumbai-based recruitment company. "With better technology today, it is possible that people work from home and still be a part of the organisation."

Companies also save a lot on office space and infrastructure. Clearly, teleworking is a fairly win-win situation for both the employers and the employees. If working from home helps employees maintain a better work-life balance and be happier with their jobs, it suits the organisation just as much as it suits the employee.

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