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BW Businessworld

Self-Test- Kit To Check If You Still Have Your Job In Tact!

The work cultures are more personal and relationship orientated, and it makes it even easier for this tribe to survive.

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Thanks to Covid 19, ‘work-from-home’ WFH and WFA ‘work-from-anywhere’, have unleashed a new reality, that has taken the world by storm, and completely changed the way we work, and live. Articles are flowing eulogizing how this digital disruption has changed for the good, and business and organizations will not be the same again. I feel there are also some ghosts lurking out there, that will come out of the closet soon…. Once normalcy returns.

Traditionally, WFH cultures have been prevalent amongst service sector industries and more in the western countries. Asia, where we live and work have been relatively slow and more conventional – expecting people to turn up at proper offices, properly attired, and follow the rigmaroles of work spaces, timings, meetings, et all. These organizations are a bit fuddy-duddy with hierarchies, staff and line functions, and so on, which indeed are the majority - this sector is perhaps the largest employer in Asia, and WFH has disrupted this space - hence this siren call.
Firstly, it’s a cultural conundrum – offices are meant to be workplaces, for people to go and work – however in reality, they do offer quite the opposite -  a nice canopy of space, time and an environment to ‘while-away’ time, those who wish. Indians call them ‘Kaam-Chors’- meaning “Work-Thieves’ - this small tribe, (size depending on your organisation’s culture), smartly avoid work, period. They  ‘look-busy – take-it-easy’ in offices. In Asia, the work cultures are more personal and relationship orientated, and it makes it even easier for this tribe to survive.

Time spent on socializing, gossiping, cyber-loafing and the fine art of sitting in front of computers / notebooks, and wasting time on social media, calls, and endless WhatsApp with leisurely physical breaks for lunches, teas, coffees, snacks, smokes, toilet breaks too, which also double up serving as dressing-rooms and chat-rooms, and finally attending some serious meetings thrown in with large groups for non-serious matters clog the hours and keep you rather busy. Very busy indeed!. Well real productivity is a small fraction of the time spent.

In Bonjour Paresse, French author Corinne Maier offers an explanation …by declaring that social science has miserably failed to understand the mechanisms of office work: “Millions of people work in business, but its world is opaque. This is because the people who talk about it the most—and I mean the university professors—have never worked there; they aren’t in the know.” Having spent years as a bureaucrat at the utility Électricité de France, Maier contends that work is increasingly reduced to “make-believe,” that at the office, “image counts more than product, seduction more than production.” In City Slackers, Steve McKevitt, a disillusioned “business and communications expert,” gloomily declares: “In a society where presentation is everything, it’s no longer about what you do, it’s about how you look like you’re doing it.”.. Hence faking it, is making it - perhaps J. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert was inspired by his uninspiring stints in the working world and says “Work can be defined as ‘anything you’d rather not be doing.”…

The germ of this malaise is in the conventional business belief, where you are paid on a monthly basis, with the security of a job, and perks … and not necessarily for the work done or work delivered. You are paid for your ‘presence’ than your ‘performance’. The Gig Economy – is opening up a new paradigm– “get paid for what you deliver” literally, piece by piece, the digital technologies are making it extremely easy to ‘measure’ the delivery. The new reality that may unleash is : How about a Receptionist being paid for the no of visitors received, calls attended, or an administrative assistant measured for actions taken, or say travels organized etc… or a smart mid-level executive in a strategy role, measured on the PPTs and reports he actually produces, and those that are accepted ?. Turned to senior management,– where measurements become more qualitative and blurred, the whole question of what is the ‘value add’ or ‘value delivered’ will leave you with much soul searching and head scratching. ‘Measurability’ is now for real, and now Digital Measurability that has swept in a new wave in the gig economy, and it will enter our lives and haunt us, soon. Be ready to be paid piece rate !

Now about the mid-fielders, conventional organisations have a majority of them. They are the true load bearers, they have adjusted to the new reality and keeping organisations running, and working hard. Senior managers are learning basic skills of scanning, printing, faxing and digital meetings. Many well-meaning organisations are rightfully recognising the stress they are going through and how helping them cope better and giving them the right sound bites, and assurances of jobs being secure. Good relief, but WFH has made lives rather difficult for them. They feel committed, yet feel boxed, and bear hidden fears and anxieties. They are stretched on their job scopes, and stretched emotionally.

Just as life is full of paradoxes, now the extreme beavers. The workaholics, the career ‘racers’ who want to make it before 30, or may be 40 and so on – who are the first to come to office, work copiously till after hours … carry home-work, glued to notebooks till they drop dead. They do take themselves extremely seriously, for they do believe, if they weren’t there to take the load, their companies and organization will shut shop. Work-life-balance, phew…’all life is work !’ and ‘time is short I need to make it, get there soon etc’ .. and with WFH, it’s just got worse, they are gadget-bound without the need to take a break to even shower, shave and dress up for office either.
There is yet another affliction motivated Managers suffer – obsessed about keeping others busy, by sending all kinds of mails or messages that are perfunctory and mostly useless, and work with the spirit of  Wimbledon Champs – responding them with lightning speed,  24x7. Strong volleys of useless communications. This group runs the risk of a complete burn out or break down, and with their need to be always preoccupied might damage their own well-being and others too… WFM is suffocation - for themselves and others.  

The recent, April 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review ( HBR) carried a topical -  researched piece, ‘3 Tips to Avoid WFH Burnout” - “Millions around the globe have made a sudden transition to remote work amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, this has some employers concerned about maintaining employee productivity. But what they really should be concerned about in this unprecedented situation is a longer-term risk: employee burnout.

The risk is substantial. The lines between work and non-work are blurring in new and unusual ways, and many employees who are working remotely for the first time are likely to struggle to preserve healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives. To signal their loyalty, devotion, and productivity, they may feel they have to work all the time. Afternoons will blend with evenings; weekdays will blend with weekends; and little sense of time off will remain. It’s possible that some employees may be asked to continue working remotely for several months.” and suggested some researched coping methods, to bring that balance.

WFH, has been kissed and welcomed by many who fall in the category of “look-busy-take-it-easy” – who now can safely and simply ‘take it easy’ and be home!  A Manager hailed – “…well I now realize that all my work is nothing - but sending a few emails and a few phone calls a day only”. It’s been great for some, to start with a period of ‘total chill’ except that increasingly they don’t have pursuits to ‘fill the chill’ with activities; and are showing signs of serious ennui, as the wonderful social milieu of the office is missing. This is creating a new mess with the state of mind, of employees, which is yet another side effect.  

The midfielders, are confused, tired and worried while taking the load and waiting for the sun to shine again. They are stressed.

The fast pacers – are running a serious danger. They have lit the candle on both ends and its burning bright.

Well, in short those who habitually work too hard or work hardly – at both ends of the spectrum are in the high-risk zone, of being burnt out or banished, and those in the middle frankly would not know where they will end up, till the sun shines brighter with normalcy.

Covid 19, will eventually recede, a normal or a new normal will surely emerge. However, However, organizations will be under extreme pressure to evaluate their costs and resources, to establish what is core and non-core, what is value accretive and not, and new performance measures, may define the basis for job retention, compensation and continuity. Two things are clear, productivity and measurability will be most vital.

We are in a period of upheaval – personal, professional and organizational. It’s like a ‘long pause’ and “reset” buttons that have been pressed together ! .. How can you be prepared for this uncertain future? Perhaps you can test yourself - whether you might have a job or not, and what the future holds. Here is the Self-Test Kit for your own personal reflection.

1.     Are you disciplined enough and established a daily routine for yourself, and follow it ? A daily to-do list and work plan. Do you review, what you have set out to do and completed? A simple quality and quantity check, of your productivity daily?

2.     Have you created a list of things you could do at peace on your own? Say even clean up your computer, spruce up your records, organize your digital libraries, files, back-ups? ie engaged self-motivated productivity ?

3.     Are you in touch with your colleagues and bosses ? Have your delivered well on online team work and projects on schedule ?

4.     Have you enhanced your digital skills? Any upgrading of your knowledge and skills adjacent to your job or role ?.

5.     Did you devote to self-development in any area of your expertise,  functionality or professional interest?

6.     How are you making yourself, relevant and indispensable for your organization, how many hours of work have your genuinely put in to help your organisation ?

7.     Have you managed a clear separation of personal time and work time at home ?

8.     Are you stressed? If yes, how are you managing that stress ?

9.     Do you follow any exercise and fitness routine, to keep yourself in good health and shape?

10.   What new pursuits have your developed, in your areas of interests – reading, art, writing, music, cooking or whatever.

Add, all answers together and weigh them, since WFM began for you… and score yourself honestly on a 10. If you score over 9/10 you have future proofed yourself – and you may be ready for the post Covid world, 7-9/10 you are safe with your job through changed conditions. 5-6/10, you are indeed risk prone, and ask yourself hard questions and recharge yourself, if you are below 5/10…. Either kick yourself into action and a serious reset, else brace up for potential kicks the environment may give you. This is your own test, and please test honestly, to avoid making it a false negative, like in Covid 19 – the consequent damage is entirely yours.

Answers to these reflective questions will provide the mirror of a self-assessment to you, whether you are likely to erode your role and job, enhance it and or be ready for the roller coaster of a post Covid world where job roles, scopes and compensations will be drastically different. It’s a shocker if you may, but all wake-up calls come with bit of a shock. So wake up and make that investment in yourself, tomorrow will be pleasantly different for you.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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work from home COVID-19

K V Rao

The author is Resident Director - ASEAN, Tata Sons

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