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Global Tamilian: The hidden cost of working from home
Despite being settled overseas, the Tamil diaspora loves to recreate the life they left behind in India. Here’s a glimpse of their lives, celebrations and struggles on foreign shores.
Work-life balance is a matter to be envious about when it comes to life abroad. Of the many privileges that ensure this balance, the ‘work from home’ option stands out particularly among the immigrants from India, whose contribution to the IT industry is well acknowledged.
Contrary to the belief, this is not an automatic privilege granted to employees in the US. For, there are many untold stories of toil and adjustments that are made to earn this sacred privilege that indeed makes life manageable in the foreign land.
“As I moved into this country, driving a car was an issue as I did not have a licence. I had to learn driving and pass the road test to get one. Unlike in India, public transport is not much prevalent in the US. So, to be able to avail work from home option comes as a boon. But, I was not fortunate in this regard. Our company never encouraged consultants to exercise this option. To this day, I only get to envy others who stay at home, work and get paid too,” says Ramkumar Sheshadri, an IT consultant.
The initial period of employment comes with a teething period, after which one can think of earning benefits. This benefit helps fresh immigrants, especially those saddled with a family. But unfortunately this is not an option available to most during the initial stage of employment.
There sure are benefits about working from home, but it is not as rosy as one would think. “While it is so handy on days when we have a domestic call such as a doctor’s appointment for my son, availing this means we have to attend to office calls even at midnight. Most of the time, even during the weekends, we are ‘locked’ at home with production releases. These are getting increasingly stressful, and quite contrary to the Westerner’s concept of not working after office hours,” observes Senthil Vadivel.
In the case of a couple with both pursuing their careers and without the support of an extended family to take care of their child, ‘work from home’ is the best thing to happen. “But nothing beats sitting at the office desk and working undisturbed on a huge monitor capable of handling multiple screens simultaneously.
Though I am availing the work from home option, handling my one-year old child demands a lot of multi-tasking that I end up hiring a nanny to keep an eye on her. It is stressful to manage work while staying at home, as the insecurity of being mistaken to be unproductive looms at the back of the mind,” says the new mom, Sangeetha Sivakumar.
Of course, harsh-weather days like snowstorm, blizzard or sub-zero temperatures are when this privilege comes as a blessing, enabling one to avoid venturing out. The flip side to it is that it is not an option guaranteed to everyone. The reporting manager must permit the employee to avail it. Though it is available for everyone in the organisation as a matter of policy, it is left to the discretion and the working style of the team and the manager.
However, many are concerned about being ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’, especially during downsizing times, worried that those sitting at home and working may top the cull list. “Though I am eligible, the fear of being a prey makes me go to work and not choose home office option,” claims Rajendran Ramamoorthy.
The stay-at-home spouse also sacrifices a lot to see the loved one work from home. The first casualty is the phone, which gets locked. “Initially I felt good when my husband would say that he is working from home.
Slowly, I started feeling it is not as nice I perceived it to be. His office calls stated eating into my social time, as I could not invite my friends to home. If I still decided to be the ‘nice serving wife’, it ended up compromising my lunch time routine. A place for everything seems to be right, and work is appropriate on at office, in my opinion,” says Aparna Vasudev.
In the US, it is a lot of struggle to bring up children when both partners work. Managing the schedule, dropping and picking them from school programmes and other classes, etc., require planning. Often enough, this multi-tasking builds up their stress.
It is not uncommon to see the dad who drops his child to a basketball class on a Saturday morning, sitting in the school lobby and attending to work on his office laptop to set right a production release that may have gone wrong.
You can also spot a mom attending to her office call while driving her kid to a dance class at 5 pm on a weekday. So, though these parents are with the child physically, they are unavailable for friendly chats in the car or at home. Work from home also results in home environment becoming like office. All family members are participants in this endeavour!
Nevertheless, the privilege drives the life of immigrants in America. Over 40 per cent jobs across the nation are remote employment, which is expected to save billions of dollars to the corporate world. And, mind you, proud Indian immigrants contribute a sizeable chunk to this delicious pie!
The writer is a journalist based in NewYork