Is work life balance still deemed as a misnomer in the culture of productivity or pandemic has changed this thought process?
SG We live in a world where work and life are becoming increasingly integrated. Balance signifies tussle between two different entities (work and life). If we changed the perspective to integration of the two, it would help a lot; an Integration where there are no hard boundaries between the professional needs and personal needs. Say, a person following work life balance might work from 9-6 pm and after that will devote time towards personal activities. Someone focusing on work life integration might take a break to attend a virtual parent-teacher dialogue from the child's school, celebrate a family birthday, and again resume work to complete it In our daily lives too, we are living in a mash-up. Everything is becoming interconnected with unified devices. To me, work life balance is akin to the era of desktops. When you left work after 6, the work (desktop) couldn't be taken home. It represents two different silos; you can choose one at a time. In the era of laptops and smart phones, people can work anytime, anywhere, and at any place. They are demanding work and life integration where the boundaries are even blurred due to remote working. I would say that pandemic has strengthened the concept of work and life mash-up where the two co-exist arm in arm.
How do you underline the importance of work-life balance in present pandemic period?
SG The importance of a healthy work-life mash-up has been underscored during these tough times. I would say that the pandemic has been an eye-opener on many fronts. It quelled many myths that we had been living with over so many years. The most important had been that we needed people/teams around us/physically present for work to happen. It couldn't just happen otherwise. Pandemic has hit India Inc. hard. Over the last 18 months, organisations that emphasized employee care and safety are appearing to benefit in the long run. Allowing remote working to employees, permitting employees to extend it when lockdown was lifted and many such measures put flexibility in employees' lives. This cut down commute time reduced road stress and put all these hours back in peoples' hands, probably as much as average of 2 hours per day in a metro. As a result, the employees contributed back with much higher productivity. As we know, many big and small firms in the corporate sector are reporting business momentum at pre-COVID levels. These firms are not just hiring in large numbers but also rolling out held-up/as usual salary increases and promotions. A big reason for business performances to bounce back is the resilience shown by the employees in living up to the trust that their organisations placed upon them. Letting people take decisions on their own in an autonomous way and not having someone look over their shoulders, is a driver of motivation. The pandemic presented a perfect opportunity to play out this management principle. It made people masters of their time and allowed them to juggle between multiple priorities, challenges, and difficulties that the pandemic has presented thus far.
What new challenges have been posed by pandemic induced Remote working or WFH as it has become living at work?
SG There are numerous challenges being posed by the pandemic. It is still unraveling and there are many unknowns. Firstly, the pandemic is truly testing the character of all the workplaces. The pandemic has blurred boundaries between personal and professional lives. Employees are feeling stressed and burnout due to increased efforts. Many employees are reporting concerns around work-life balance in pandemic times. Working long hours in make-shift home-offices is also causing various disorders in people such as neck pains, lower-back pains. Social isolation and not having opportunities to mix and mingle with colleagues is creating a void in peoples' lives. A lot of employees have talked about how they would love to be back at office, amongst teams, and meet people face-to-face. The virtual can't replicate the vibes of a cake smeared face or the roaring laughter of a Santa. With so many new situations to face, leadership and culture are becoming the true differentiators. It is becoming more important than ever to ensure high morale and engagement amongst the employees. Managers are now leading remote teams. The people can't meet one another or fill up the gaps in information/knowledge through serendipitous interactions. The whole work planning needs to be more deliberately designed and thoughtful. The level of details and explanations in meetings, tone in emails, and all other communication, must suit a virtual set-up. On boarding new hires and truly assimilating them in the organisation culture has proven to be a big challenge in a remote set-up. It is difficult for them to experience all facets of a multi-business/multi-location set up. This could impact their understanding of the organisation's ethos and even their productivity. It might even cause early disillusionment amongst these set of people. The virtual has created more opaqueness. A task in a work-stream now passes through various "black-boxes" and the micromanagers seem to be losing sleep over loss of control. They are forced to trust their employees more and move to a review focused and outcome-based measurement system. Applicability and implications of certain compliance and governance requirements extend to the remote workplace. The PoSH is one of them. Organisations must ensure that all their employees understand and follow this. Lastly, the second wave of pandemic has been deadly. Employees and their families have undergone a lot of pain and they are dealing with stress, shock, grief, bereavements and many such emotions. This has taken a toll on the well-being of people at large and adds to the list of challenges the organisations are grappling with.