With the pandemic showing no signs of receding, working from home has become an effective solution for companies to help keep their employees safe. We asked BankBazaar folks their thoughts on long-term WFH, and here’s what they had to say.
When most of us were asked to work from home a few months ago owing to COVID-19, little did we know that this would become the ‘new normal’ for us. In fact, working from home for the past three months has thrown up challenges and pleasant surprises that we had little knowledge of before the pandemic hit us.
For many of us, working from home is the answer we knew all along to the question we were afraid of asking – “Is a two-hour commute to work really necessary?”. But then again, for many, WFH is pretty overrated too. For instance, juggling calls when you have a crying toddler and a pile of laundry vying for your attention doesn’t do anything for your productivity. There’s the double burden of housework and office work that we have to deal with in the WFH arrangement amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the house is divided on the pros of WFH, we spoke to some of our BankBazaar employees to get their views on WFH as companies around the world start looking at remote working as a more sustainable and effective solution to living with COVID-19 in the near future.
WFH: The New Normal?
While for many of us WFH has helped us achieve a new level of efficiency without the watercooler chitchats and totally avoidable meetings, there are many who also miss the general buzz around the office and the social interaction. Is long-term WFH a viable and preferable solution? We asked folks at BankBazaar which option would they prefer – working from home on a long-term or permanent basis.
Shivank from the Product Team, for instance, would still prefer going to the office a few times every week. Then there are others like Saptarshi and Prince from the Marketing Team who don’t mind an extended period of WFH if that’s what it takes to keep us safe, but are not comfortable with the idea of permanent WFH.
Many like Varsha from the Technology Team and Aakash from the Marketing Team would prefer a hybrid model – WFH for some days of the week and going to work the rest of the days. This, they say, will ensure that they don’t miss out on in-person interactions which are crucial for team cohesion.
For many, like CMO Aparna and Meghana from the Marketing Team and Anusha from the Product Team who’ve struck the perfect balance between their work and household tasks, WFH is a very welcome option.
Many, however, are also struggling with WFH for these last four months as household responsibilities are putting a huge strain on their productivity. For instance, Rafath, a Senior Analyst in the SEO Team, is finding it hard to draw clear-cut boundaries between her work and household responsibilities and would prefer returning to the office.
Additional Reading: Money Management During The Coronavirus Crisis
Work from home has been an option for certain departments across different companies before this crisis. Now, it’s a necessity. When an option becomes a necessity, the dynamics change. For those used to working from home, it isn’t all that different. For some, it’s a big change. Anusha says, “Working from home was an option for me prior to the lockdown and I availed of it regularly. Of the 5 days each week, I would work from home 2-3 days”. Chief Product Officer Rati says that it was an option before and she’d take it sometimes as well.
On the other hand, Shervin and Satyajit from the Customer Support team say that it was never an option due to the nature of their work. Setting up their systems at home and suddenly finding themselves working remotely has taken some getting used to.
Just like any new change, WFH has presented challenges (and some welcome surprises too!) that we quite hadn’t thought of before. When it comes to behavioural aspects of that change like maintaining the same schedule as when you went into the office, barring a few initial hiccups, it’s only a matter of getting used to.
But there are some obvious challenges that a new arrangement like WFH presents for many that can’t be wished away even if one wanted to. With schools shut and children stuck at home, many are finding it hard to set boundaries at home with their children. Anusha, a mother to three girls, for instance, faces a real challenge in making her kids understand that even though she is at home and her kids are on vacation, she still has to work.
Rafath, too, faces a similar predicament with both her household and work responsibilities demanding her attention at the same time. For some like Prince, the initial few months of lockdown were especially difficult with no caretaker around and a toddler to take care of. But the problem soon turned into something more complicated. He began finding it really difficult to set a cut-off time for work. “I feel the number of hours I put in has gone up and there is no cut-off time like with going to the office,” says Prince.
For many women, going into work would also serve as a well-deserved break from their household chores. WFH took away that privilege says Aparna, adding that she found it “very exhausting to be managing a large part of the household work (cooking, cleaning, etc.) and office work for the couple of months during the complete lockdown. There was no ‘getting away’ from any of it like earlier – one could just head to the office and get a break from home and vice versa.”
Many cited technical challenges like frequent power outages and patchy Wi-Fi connectivity that disrupted their workflow and team calls.
Virtual onboarding may have become par for the course for many companies who are still hiring during the lockdown but it is not without its challenges. Varsha faced this unique problem while WFH. “Most recently I have had to onboard a new employee remotely. This has proven a challenge. Even beyond the logistics of reaching company assets to the individual who has travelled back home during these times of lockdown, the bigger challenge is to ramp up this individual without the luxury of whiteboarding and quick access to other individuals that can mentor and help,” elaborates Varsha.
Additional Reading: WFH: Challenges And Advantages
Walking The Work-Life Tightrope
One of the most common arguments against WFH is the work spillover that carries well into your evenings or even weekends. It’s easier to shut down your computer and hurry out of the office to catch your bus, and colleagues, who notice that, will understand. But what do you do when you’re WFH? Working from home can impact your work-life balance.
Sarita from the Product Content Team echoes this sentiment and has invented ways of coping with this too. “It’s difficult to remember to take breaks and put a hard stop to work in the evening and unplug entirely. Time gets away from me sometimes. I’ve set break reminders, set up ‘quiet hours’ for notifications on MS-Teams, and make a conscious effort to completely disconnect at the end of the day. It’s important to draw that clear line between work and personal time and respect it in order to recharge and bring your best to the table the next day,” she says. Her teammate Sanesh reiterates the trouble with downtime when he quips, “There’s no proper lunchtime some days. It’s, like, typing and eating.”
But WFH is not all about a disturbed work-life balance. For some, the balance has, in fact, improved. Says Anusha, “This crisis has affected my work-life balance, but for the better. Earlier, when I was working from home and everyone else was in the office, most of the day was spent in meetings, and often, I’d have to work late to complete ‘my work tasks’. However, since the lockdown, online meetings have become much more efficient (shorter and to the point) as people are more focused.”
For many, WFH has helped them manage their time better and, with long commutes no longer in the picture, they have some free time in the day that they’re utilising to pursue their hobbies and upskill themselves. Nanda from the Marketing Team says, “The impact has been positive. I have less stress and more time. So I’ve been exercising more, cooking more, my family gets more time.”
Many like Varsha acknowledge that WFH does indeed lead to work spillover but have also come up with smart ways to tackle this. “Well, yes, there is an extent of bleed over of the workday well into the evening. But I try not to make that a regular feature and force a routine where I engage with my kids for a few hours each evening. I also draw clearer lines around work during the weekends,” says Varsha.
Additional Reading: Post COVID-19: What Will Work Look Like?
Productivity is hotly debated when people discuss the perks of WFH. For some, it improves manifold with long-hour commutes and finishing a long list of mundane tasks before you leave home out of the picture. And then for others, with so many things demanding your attention all at the same time at home, productivity goes for a toss. WFH for so many months has encouraged many to come up with ways that will make WFH productive for them.
For Shivank, effective communication among his team members has taken priority. “Good communication between cross-functional teams is key to ensuring high productivity. Physical meetings have been replaced with Virtual meetings, 1-1 in-person discussions have been replaced with 1-1 virtual call-based discussions,” he says.
On the other hand, setting up a separate work station and creating a list of tasks has helped Aparna. “I have a separate workspace at home that no one enters during my workday. I have always been very big on lists and have been relying on them even more to ensure I am productive during this phase. Before each day, I have a list of all the things that need to be done and I try to work by that list. I have scheduled several weekly team meetings to ensure I catch up with folks, motivate them, while also ensuring that everyone is on the same page as far as projects are concerned – are aware of the progress, timelines, etc,” says BankBazaar’s CMO.
Anusha agrees. “Steps to increase productivity that have really helped me include: clearly establishing start/end times to my workday and setting up my work area in a quiet corner of the house that isn’t used for other tasks,” she says.
Many like Sarita are following a well-rounded approach to enhance their productivity. “Self-discipline to stick to a regular schedule. Having a designated work area. Picking up the phone to explain something because text communication may be misunderstood. Also, trying to distinguish between ‘effective’ communication over email/chat/calls and ‘incessant’ communication that can hamper the overall productivity of my team by inadvertently interrupting their flow and delaying the quick outcome I’m seeking in the first place,” she says.
Necessitating New Methods
Everything that has happened due to the COVID-19 crisis has been unprecedented, especially on the work front. Did any of us ever think that’d we’d have to turn our homes into offices for months? No. So, how difficult or easy was it to adapt? Rati says she really hasn’t had to pick up any new skills as such. “As part of the Product Team, working cross-functionally with other teams across different locations has always been normal. In that regard, working from home or the office, it’s pretty much the same process.”
In contrast, Shervin, as a trainer, has never had to execute his duties remotely before. From a classroom setting to a screen – it’s been quite a change and he has had to tweak the process to facilitate remote training. Shivank also adds that he’s had to get better at communicating to cross-functional teams virtually.
Cashing In On Saved Commute Time
In big cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, traffic snarls are an integral and rather painful part of our lives. Most employees have to plan their entire day around the madness on the roads. Those living close to their office usually save a lot of time by just avoiding the traffic. So, how much time are people saving and what are they doing with it? Basker from the UI Team says, “I am saving up to an hour which helps me start work early. This, in turn, improves productivity”.
Others seem to have found a lot to do with the saved time. Sarita says, “I use the additional time gained for a few online courses/ certifications, supplementing my daily fitness regime, working on my personal writing, honing my rusty drawing skills, or pottering around in the garden.” Saptarshi from the SEO Team adds, “The commute was taxing. Now, I sometimes play the keyboard instead of honking on the packed roads. The music is better, trust you me.”
With working from home amid the pandemic, your daily commute is essentially the length of your hallway. No one’s really complaining. Anything’s better than being stuck in that snail-paced traffic, eh?
Embracing The New Normal
After three months of not making that trip to the office, have people made peace with the new normal? Or do they still prefer working from the office? Most prefer a mix. Shivank says that he’d like to go to the office a few times a week after the office, while others like Shervin and Satyajit would rather work from the office like earlier. Many would like to go to the office mainly to meet their teams and keep that team spirit alive and kicking. Nishant from the Product Content team says, “The new normal comes with its challenges. We don’t really have a choice but to take everything in our stride and look ahead.”
COVID-19 has touched every aspect of our lifestyles, making WFH more the norm than the exception in a post-COVID world. There was a pre-COVID world and there will be a post-COVID reality. “As a business and as a community, we need to remain calm, realign our goals, focus and accept the fact that things may never go back to the way they were,” signs off Nishant.
How have you adjusted to the new normal? What does it look like for you? Let us know in the comments.