The research showed that both husbands and wives completed more family-related tasks when they worked from home versus the office.
The work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon which made its entry into our world post-Covid-19 is still stuttering along. But tensions between employers and employees are rising as a workforce that got accustomed to Zoom meetings, didn’t have long commutes to negotiate, and gained more flexibility and freedom in how it worked, is demanding that managements meaningfully integrate the WFH option into service conditions. Many employers, however, are trying to drag employees back to office kicking and screaming, as it were. Irony of ironies, the Zoom company itself announced a policy mandating many of its employees return to in-person work. While both sides of the office versus remote work argument have their supporters, no amount of debate can elide a central truth: WFH is essentially about working conditions. More control over their working conditions has been the foundational principle of trades unions. Of course, the flip side was that the Luddites said they were not opposed to the mechanisation of modes of production but to their employers eliminating workers’ control over labour practices.
And by the latter half of the 20th century in India ~ and in some states like West Bengal well into the 21st century ~ the once well-intended and necessary labour movement which helped millions escape the exploitative practices of business owners had descended to a farce. Corrupt unions, violent leaders, and governments’ sotto voce message to scandalously run quasi-judicial ‘labour courts’ across the country to never announce an award against a worker did the rest. Cut to the sudden switch to remote work in 2020. It needs to be recognised, as academics have pointed out, that while it was disruptive for both workers and employers, it was the latter in millions of cases who had to either shut shop or scale back drastically. On the other hand, WFH gave employees a whole lot of flexibility in terms of working hours and locations. Every employee loved it, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying through their teeth. The most valuable takeaway for millions of employees spanning industries was the remarkable improvement in their quality of life.
But many workers have also argued that remote working is better for work. While a few employers have embraced a fully remote model, most knowledge and tech sector employers in particular, both in India and globally, have simply been mandating at least a partial return to the office without taking enough feedback from employees and, more importantly, without providing data that shows working from office is better for productivity than WFH. In fact, when Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told workers that “inventing is easier and more effective when we’re in person”, his assertion was challenged by 30,000 Amazon employees who signed a petition describing Mr Jassy’s return-to-office order as arbitrary and took to the streets in protest. Welcome to the brave new world, whether you are watching it go by from home or from the office.