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After adapting to WFH, Chennaiites want to go slow on return-to-office

Late in March, when the nation-wide lockdown was announced, office work culture, as many knew it, took a turn. While working from home is not a new concept for many, the enforcement of work from home culture on small local businesses and large companies alike has changed modern work dynamics in multiple ways.

After adapting to WFH, Chennaiites want to go slow on return-to-office
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Illustration : Saai

Chennai

Now with 30 per cent of the workforce returning to physical office spaces, many feel a transition to the old is needed to cope effectively.

A slow transition

For many, work from home was a new concept that they had to grapple with, for it brought the office into their home, two spaces that were formerly strictly separated. This was difficult for many to balance, and many rued how their workload increased during this time.

However, for others, it was a blessing. “I’m enjoying working from home because I have been saying I needed a break from the usual grind for a long time. I don’t think I would be able to return to our usual hectic schedule immediately. We need time to work ourselves up to that level of productivity, and we need time to recover from all this,” said Saima Farheen, founder of Socially Crisp, a marketing firm.

Aside from logistical issues like transport, safety conditions at work, and productivity, factors such as comfort and more free time might have working professionals hesitant to return to their old work lifestyles immediately. "Habits are formed over 21 days. Working from home has created some lethargy in people, thanks to the comforts if offer. For example, I can wake up at 9.15 am for a 10 am work call, and only need to freshen up and put on a shirt. This comfort will take time to rid of,” said Vivek Venkataraman, regional account manager, Zoho Corporation.

Farheen and Venkataraman feel there must be a phased manner of returning to physical office spaces, which is assisted by the State government’s announcement that only 30 per cent of the workforce can return to offices. However, they also suggest that a hybrid model be established, such as having a certain number of days in a week as WFH days, to ease with the transition.

The future of working

But past two months have changed several aspects of how working from home is being perceived, said Chiraag Kinger, co-founder of Hashtag Inc, starting with hiring freelancers. “While I feel that a physical office is key for all companies to work effectively, this has changed the way we look at freelancers. Our initial worry was monitoring how they work from home. Now, we have a better idea on how to set up timelines for freelancers and also monitor them,” he said.

However, Venkataraman said while freelancers are now an option for smaller businesses, larger companies will still choose to hire full-time professionals due to the availability of resources. “But WFH has also made the entire workforce more global. Companies abroad, given their unique laws and legislations, might be interested in choosing quality labour in India, which is less expensive for them. The perspective has changed – it’s all about meeting and remaining productive now,” he said.

The office as a physical space can now expand to include other options, said Kinger, such as co-working spaces and cafes. “There are days when I just want some time apart from the team to think of a creative idea. There are days where I want to work, but not at office. I think companies can now look into working from home or working from places that are not the office as a means to increase productivity and create a better mental work environment,” said Kinger. "Such flexibility could help boost productivity, lessen pinch, and improve the bottom line while creating a better relationship with employees," he said.

However, there is one aspect that working from home cannot encapsulate, and that is water-cooler talk, or tea-kadai discussions. “These interactions are what make a company or a team work better. In work from home culture, most discussions are to-the-point and offer little space for other conversation. While we've tried to recreate it in our company, nothing will compare to the real thing, and that is something we will miss while working from home,” said Kinger.

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