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Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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To Work, Or Not To Work, From Home

With emerging technologies, and improvements in the space of AI and other smart automation, much of manual intervention-based roles and skills can be replaced by machines

Photo Credit : India Picture Budget


A recent social media platform report mentioned that over three-fourths of office workers in India are heading back to office, essentially to socialise and to become part of normal team activities. Contrast this with just a year ago, with Covid unlocking, the mood was quite different. People doubted the need to get back to the workplace. It was assumed that work could happen from home, or anywhere remotely.

In the past several months, we have witnessed many organisations calling back employees to the workplace. This stirred up debates on the usefulness of hybrid work formats, even its implications on career opportunities. Going back to a formal workplace has now become a mindset issue. A report by ADP Research Institute reveals that over three-fourth of Indian employees would be ready to take a pay cut to have flexibility of working remotely or hybrid and to have control over their work timings.

So how does one make sense of all these data points?

*Looking back

When the Covid pandemic struck, the world learnt to work remotely, be it knowledge workers   delivering services, or those in trade who had to learn to use digital tools for their livelihood. Suddenly the phrase – Work from Home (WFH) – became the norm. People and enterprises adapted and delivered results. The stress on human minds and health did happen with WFH. Every digital transformation proposal that was gathering dust was cleared for immediate execution. Digital became the new currency for enterprises of any size to survive. It seemed you either Digitise or Die.

As more and more jumped onto the digital bandwagon, what started as a mere trickle turned into a widespread trend. Not to be left behind, Tech-Pundits held online webinars, and vehemently exhorted on social media, the dawn of a new digital age. Suddenly, all processes and tasks were looked at with a view to make them digital. Organisations in the IT/ITES and consulting space opened their purse strings to fund incubator projects, or to accelerate the pace of ‘inflight projects’. All around one could feel the rise of the digital phenomenon, evidenced by the spurt of hiring and the growth of new tech startups. The pandemic had arrived and turbo charged the agenda for AI, Automation – especially in areas requiring digital proximity.

As remote working became the norm of the pandemic days, many companies discovered the benefits of remote work: such as increased productivity (ignoring that people were working longer hours trapped at home in cramped spaces), reduced overhead costs (admin were being asked to release costly office facilities), and the perception of improved work-life balance for employees. It is true that the early morning travel routine to work, and later in the evening in the nightmare of traffic, was now a thing of the past.

The pandemic also created seminal changes. The changes were abrupt, harsh, and severe for the more marginalised workmen and small entrepreneurs. Many were completely wiped out, in mounting debt, some even on the brink of starvation. Most affected were the daily wage earners: housemaids, gardeners, bricklayers, restaurant employees, etc. Many ‘Covid warriors’ were hailed at their workplace for the essential services they provided: medical, nursing, garbage cleaning, etc. but ostracised and discriminated against when they got back home. 

*Challenges of Virtual Work

Technological advancements, globalisation, evolving demographic patterns and economic shifts are transforming the way we work and live. It is even defining the way we looked at what was formal work a few years ago. The gig economy is now acceptable in the societal context as well as law. As we embrace more digital ways in our existence, much of jobs would go digital too, and hence might be able to deliver with access to the internet – be it from phone or computers. Exactly why would remote global work be the future for much of current skills being sought after? Companies could hire talent globally, and not be restricted to geographic boundaries.

With emerging technologies, and improvements in the space of AI and other smart automation, much of manual intervention-based roles and skills can be replaced by machines. But then, as with every new technology, this might not only make a few roles redundant, but also develop the need for newer human skills and employment.

In the digital era, working remotely brings its own set of challenges. The core need for integrated and acceptable interpersonal skills and communication can be a challenge. Enterprises must solve for the need to decipher any team misunderstandings before they become larger trouble. Working remotely drives employees to be self-disciplined and to be self-starters. In the cluttered living context of the Indian cities, employees must also solve for productivity challenges in a remote work world.

The challenges of the workplace will evolve further in the years ahead. More companies are experimenting with flexible work formats, including remote work, WFH, work from office thrice a week, etc. However, it is important to note that not all jobs can be done remotely, and some companies may still prefer to have their employees work in a physical office. It is not just about team capabilities and human interaction in an acceptable workplace culture.  Many a times, it is also about confidentiality of the work being handled.

There is a crying need to evolve the new model and companies that embrace this change and use it to create more flexibility and autonomy for their employees will be better positioned to attract and retain top talent.