Working from home (WFH) is a boon for companies in specific sectors such as technology. The pros and cons, the challenges, the changing nature of work dynamics such as collaboration – these have all been well documented and continue to generate a lot of conversation. But most of these conversations tend to revolve around white collar workers in developed markets.
What about companies for whom WFH is not possible? Or worse, companies where some employees, due to the nature of their work, can opt to work from home, but the rest still have to physically show up to the workplace?
As the owner of a small business that makes and exports customised cotton and jute bags, I have been facing this challenge for the last month or so, ever since the country-wide lockdown in India, came to an end.
The whole issue boils down to the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Put simply, my team has never been exposed to the idea that someone might be able to work from home. They have never worked in industries where remote working has been an option. Consequently, they tend to view WFH as a paid vacation.
For example, a March hire who focuses on digital marketing can easily work from home. But many others work on the factory floor and therefore cannot. And they’ve been with us for years. To them the treatment of their new colleague seems like “favouritism.” They feel that this special facility should be extended to them.
Another member of the team fell sick recently. For obvious reasons, it’s not a good idea in the current COVID environment to have anyone with a cold coming in to work. So he opted to WFH for a few days. But, once again, the rest who had to show up to work were not happy about this.
Politics at workplace is not a new thing. But this is certainly a new twist to it.
And I have to confess, I don’t have all the answers yet. So far, my approach has been to ensure transparency in communication so that everyone knows what is and isn’t acceptable.
I also try to ensure that everyone in the team feels comfortable approaching me directly at all times. And last, but not least, I do my best to ensure that that team sees me as unbiased and impartial.
But this is also where the challenge lies. My desire, as a team leader, to adhere to these traits simply cannot affect our company’s pandemic response. It’s a tough situation. The best I can do is to maintain a dialogue with the “have-nots” so that they start getting more comfortable in this new work environment. But it’s not easy, or certain, that this will work.
Clearly, WFH is here to stay for a long time. There are benefits to it – I just need to make sure that the politics of it all can be taken care of along the way.