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Doing their homework

Beating the jams and braving the heat to come into office has become increasingly irrelevant in the age of broadband and Blackberries. The Office has homed into a new place: the homes of employees, finds Neha Tara Mehta.

india Updated: May 04, 2008, 01:26 IST
Hindustan Times

No business suits, no stuffy cubicles, no file-toting secretaries. Yet, it’s business as usual for Sameer Walia, MD of specialist KPO firm, The Smart Cube. Armed with his ‘work’ paraphernalia — a jar of cookies, mixed fruit juice, a bunch of unread magazines and a laptop — he is transacting business across Delhi, London and Chicago. In between calls, emails, and giving instructions to his key employees on AOL Instant Messenger, is the luxury of taking a nap and catching up on reading. His ‘corporate dress’ is a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, and his 'office' for the day is his favourite corner in the drawing room, where he can put his feet up on the sofa and work.

Walia works out of home at least once a fortnight — sometimes for three days at a stretch — to hear himself think, and get work out of the way, uninterrupted. “If I am in office, I am constantly badgered by people and calls. If I need 9-10 hours to finish some work, I end up taking 16. I get far more work done at home."

<b1>Senior employees at Walia’s firm are encouraged to work out of home as well. "It’s refreshing,” says the boss. Manager Shashank Narain works out of home nearly five days a month — primarily to save on time wasted in getting to work, but sometimes, to tend to his seven-year-old labrador, Simba. "I don’t have to call up my boss and come up with a lie to take a day off when there’s work to be done, both in office and home. I can just work out of home. It’s a win-win situation,” he says.

Coming in to office to get work done has become increasingly irrelevant in the age of the broadband and Blackberries. The Office has homed into a new work place: homes of employees. With temperatures soaring at 42 degrees and higher, stuffy business suits have made way for shorts, and hours wasted on commuting have found a multipronged use: making the elusive work-life balance work out.

Productive parenting

When you call the Impetus Technologies office and ask for extension 5701, you reach full-time mother Pooja Sehgal Bansal’s residence — from where she heads a 17-member team. The marketing and communication associate director goes into the company’s Indore and Noida offices once a month for about 2-3 days each. “Initially, I was very sceptical about how such an arrangement could work. But then, this is how we work in the IT industry — all our clients are in different geographic locations.” The advantage: “It’s brilliant to be able to see my daughter scribble her first 1s and 3s.” The disadvantage: “I work out of pajamas at home, and don’t get to wear my sarees until I go to office.”

Ritu Bhati was IBM India’s first employee to start working out of home in 2000, when she had a small baby to look after. Now a mother of two, the learning consultant says, “The kids know it’s not story time when I am working from home. I shut the door when I am busy, and it’s only when I turn off the laptop that they know they can play with me.”

Mothering and mentoring teams at the same time can be taxing, but several women working out of home feel it helps them become both, better parents and better employees. Mumbai-based Simone Paymaster, HR manager, TCS, has been working out of home for the last two years. “It makes me more productive because I am using my mind instead of just changing diapers. It makes me feel good about who I am, and that’s important, because you need to feel good about who you are before you can be a good mother,” she says.

Srilakshmi Narasimhan took a quantum career leap as a “working housewife.” In between cooking meals for the family and seeing the kids off to school, she started working as a trainee copy editor for Chennai’s Newgen Imaging Systems Private Limited in 2002. Two years later, she became a project manager. She now goes to office for a few hours everyday to train people. “I got a real high when I started doing well. Though I started working for a salary, now it’s not about the money. I work because I enjoy it,” she says.

Facewash saved; French spoken

For Sarika Gal, Sun Microsystem’s marketing operations and web manager, working out of home for the last six months has meant, among other things, saving on facewash. “By the time I would get to work from my home in Borivali to my office in Bandra after a two-hour commute, my face would be completely muddy. I had to start stocking up on face wash and creams in office.” She adds, “Half my energy was consumed in just getting to office. There were times when I had to make conference calls to Singapore in the middle of the road over a crackling mobile signal.” Gal now goes to office sometimes to attend meetings — but primarily works from home. “Thanks to this arrangement, I have the time to do more work. And I breathe a lot less carbon monoxide.”

Saving time on getting to work can also help you speak French. Take development research consultant Yashodhan Ghorpade, whose work-from-home option with a multilateral developmental agency allows him to work at night when he feels more creative, and use the day for other things — like French classes, tennis and reading. “I work out of home upto twice a week, and don’t necessarily have to stick to a nine to five schedule. And work can happen from anywhere — even a Wi-Fi coffee shop,” he says.

Home is where the heart is

The work-from-home option makes good HR sense, companies are realising. At Sun Microsystems, where the programme is at its nascent stage, the employee satisfaction rating is 85 per cent. And ever since PR firm 20:20 Media introduced the policy a year ago, attrition rates have seen a drop, says the Delhi GM, Amrit Ahuja.

“Such a policy improves employee morale and reduces stress by giving a greater sense of balance between one’s work and personal life. It also reduces employee absenteeism — as an employee who wishes to be absent from office due to a personal matter could work from home,” says Subash Rao, director, HR, Cisco India.

Companies are also acknowledging the rather inconvenient truth of global warming, and trying to cut down on fuel usage by getting their employees to stay at home. The Global Information System (GIS) department of Applied Materials has launched the GreenIS program to cut down its carbon footprint by 10,000 tons by 2012. “Our Applied Anywhere program under GreenIS includes Home Mobile, which means employees can work from home 1-3 days a week, and Home Assigned, under which they can work from home 4-5 days a week,” says Bangalore-based Nagaraj Bhat, director, GIS.

However, most companies extend this option only to employees whose roles can be performed from home without any loss in productivity — and who can be trusted to work out of home. “There are always some bad pennies sitting at home and not working. We had this policy across the board, but there was terrible misuse. Now, we have it only for those with at least three years work experience and a certain level of responsibility,” says Walia of The Smart Cube.

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