The central debate in times of COVID-19 pandemic has been the surfacing of ‘Remote Work’ by companies/employers, and its role in ensuring organisational effectiveness in the business environment today. Remote Work, which has been rarely seen in good light by companies/employers not more than a decade ago, is currently the state of trend of employment in the industrial workforce of future and today.[i]
The COVID-19 pandemic situation has been instrumental in especially pushing the Information Technology (IT) industry to accept the concept of Remote Work, and major Indian IT Companies like Infosys and TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) are employing long-term and Complete/Permanent Remote Working of Employees for present and future, while also having confirmed the working effectiveness of the Work-from-Home Model.[ii] [iii]
The transition to the Remote Work Model is further being widely followed by multi-national companies of different industries in the wake of pandemic situation. Social Media Companies such as Twitter and Facebook have opted for Remote Work for their employees, and are also open to permanent Remote Work policy in the midst of pandemic situation when preferring fully remote environment.[iv] Other major companies having operations in India such as Amazon, American Express, and Capgemini from industries like E-commerce, Banking, and Consulting/Technological Services, are following suit and have implemented Remote Working model for their employees.[v] The COVID-19 situation has significantly elevated the importance of physical dimension of work, and provides an opportunity to view Remote Work from a point of view different than the traditional understanding of regular work during pre-pandemic times at Office premises.
The Remote Work culture for employees is now steadily becoming part of the industries and in service sectors, and has raised debates on how companies may attain their business ends/objectives by adopting Work-from-Home/Remote Work model as part of Company strategy/policy, and simultaneously ensure effective working, functioning and productivity of the organisation. As per one of the global surveys conducted in the United States (US) in early 2020, the results indicate that Remote Workers are actually more productive than their office-based counterparts, and work-from-home model is increasing employees’ productivity.[vi] Research further shows that Employees that telecommute/telework have higher performance trends when compared to Office-going employees.[vii] Many companies/organisations, therefore, have recognised Remote Work as the ‘new normal’ and have been shifting their culture and norms to support this new arrangement.
It is widely believed that Telecommuting/telework is emerging as a new management tool for the Companies/Employers, and when adequately implemented, has the potential to increase performance of employees, provide more satisfaction to employees, and benefit the businesses. The upward trends in remote working is indicative that companies have been attracting employees in the tight labour market where use of sophisticated digital technologies and new communication methods are being widely appreciated that are being utilised towards coordination and collaboration of companies/employers with the employees in the new-age business and working environment.[viii]
Remote working, as it benefits employees, is adding lot of value to the companies. Considering companies allow workers to work-from-anywhere, it provides immense opportunity for the companies towards talent acquisition at the global level, and in geographically dispersed areas where companies may not have Office(s).[ix] With the shifting to remote work culture, research suggests that the potential for the remote work arrangement at present remains concentrated chiefly among highly learned and skilled workers in specific group of industries, occupations, and geographies, which is creating profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.[x]
Remote Work, though feasible, poses a range of issues and challenges to employers and employees. Companies are devising methods to deliver best-in-class remote coaching to the employees, and have been consistently engaged in configuring workspaces for ensuring employee safety. Employees, on the other hand, have been found to struggle with social/professional isolation with few opportunities for sharing information, and are in need of finding the best home-work balance for equipping themselves to collaborate and work remotely. Moreover, many of the activities, like those requiring fixed equipment (in labs/hospitals), physical/manual activities, providing care, transactions in stores, counselling, customer/colleague relationships, recruitment, negotiations, teaching/training/coaching, innovation/problem-solving/creativity, etc., produce maximum results when achieved in person rather than when done remotely.[xi]
In view of the limitations that Remote Work may have for the Employers, many companies are planning a new combination of on-site and remote working, which is termed as “hybrid-virtual” model, where some employees are present in Offices and some work remotely. The hybrid model offers a host of potential benefits that has reached its success in the pandemic times, and the new model is likely to ensure greater access to talent, increased productivity for individuals/small teams, lowered costs, flexibility to the employees, and improved employee satisfaction/experiences.[xii] The hybrid model also offers new shared culture that provides stability to employees, social identity and cohesion because of in-person collaboration/exchanges, and a sense of belonging, whether employees are working remotely or in-person at the Office premises.[xiii] This particular work model has been successfully implemented by IT companies like Infosys, TCS, and Wipro, where majority of IT professionals have been working under the flexible “hybrid” work model.[xiv]
Some of the MNC’s have shown reservations in adoption of Complete Remote Work Policy for their businesses. Many companies are offering flexible options such as fully remote, flex, and office-based so that tasks that cannot be completed virtually may be completed in Office. Financial services firms such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have termed the remote-work culture as a deviation and an “implausible” proposition, and their services will need to be corrected so as to ensure their respective businesses and achievement of ideal targets.[xv] To avoid the pitfalls of remote working, the leadership and management of companies would require optimal strategising of the hybrid-virtual work model, and due attention may be granted towards social cohesion and adoption of unified hybrid virtual culture that organisations need in the new normal.[xvi]
Abhinav Dutta holds a MA in Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University, Karnataka, India and B Sc in Geology (Honors) from the University of Delhi, Delhi, India. His research interests are International Relations Theory, International and Strategic Negotiations, Political Thought and Theory, and US Foreign Policy. He has been published in numerous Indian defense journals/magazines.
[i] Sean Peek, “Communication Technology and Inclusion Will Shape the Future of Remote Work”, Business News Daily (USA), 18 March 2020, available at https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/8156-future-of-remote-work.html, accessed on 17 May 2021.
[ii] Itika Sharma Punit, “It took a pandemic for India’s tech industry to grasp the benefits of working from home”, Quartz India (USA), 21 December 2020, available at https://qz.com/india/1942425/indian-its-phobia-of-remote-work-was-defeated-by-the-pandemic/, accessed on 17 May 2021.
[iii] Sandip Mellam, “Redefine the Office and Work Life after Covid 19”, TCS Official Website (HQ Mumbai), 06 January 2021, available at https://www.tcs.com/blogs/employees-remote-work-from-home-hrms-application#:~:text=The impetuous response to the,work from home by 2025., accessed on 17 May 2021; The TCS is planning to implement permanent Work-from-Home to 75 % of its employees by 2025.
[iv] Zahra Tayeb, “The great divide: business leaders are split on long-term remote working. This is what Spotify, Twitter, Goldman Sachs, and others have announced”, Business Insider (India), 8 March 2021, available at https://www.businessinsider.in/careers/news/the-great-divide-business-leaders-are-split-on-long-term-remote-working-this-is-what-spotify-twitter-goldman-sachs-and-others-have-announced-so-far-/articleshow/81380073.cms#:~:text=According to the report, Twitter's,productivity by doing so himself., accessed on 17 May 2021.
[v] “20 Popular Companies that offer Remote jobs in India”, Waw Asia (Vietnam), available at https://waw.asia/blogs/20-popular-companies-that-offer-remote-jobs-in-India-i.13476.html, accessed on 17 May 2021.
[vi] Sammi Caramela, “Working from Increases Productivity”, Business News Daily (USA), 31 March 2020, available at https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/15259-working-from-home-more-productive.html, accessed on 17 May 2021.
[vii] Zara Abrams, “The Future of Remote Work”, American Psychological Association (USA), 1 October 2019, available at https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/10/cover-remote-work, accessed on 18 May 2021.
[ix] n. iv.
[x] Susan Lund, Anu Madgavkar, James Manyika, & Sven Smit, “What’s Next for Remote Work: Analysis of 2000 tasks, 800 jobs, and 9 countries”, McKinsey and Company (USA), available at https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/whats-next-for-remote-work-an-analysis-of-2000-tasks-800-jobs-and-nine-countries, accessed on 18 May 2021.
[xii] “Reimagining the Postpandemic Workforce”, McKinsey Quarterly, McKinsey and Company (USA), 7 July 2020, available at https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/reimagining-the-postpandemic-workforce, accessed on 18 May 2021.
[xiv] Malvika Gurung, “Infosys’ Hybrid Work Model For 2.4 Lakh Employees: Work From Home Or Office At Different Time Zones!”, Trak.in (Pune), 16 December 2020, available at https://trak.in/tags/business/2020/12/16/infosys-hybrid-work-model-for-2-4-lakh-employees-work-from-home-or-office-at-different-time-zones/, accessed on 18 May 2021.
[xv] n. iv.
[xvi] n. xii.