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Can India Keep Working From Home Even After The Lockdown?

British India saw a massive shift in its work culture back in the 18th and 19th century, when workers were forced to leave the comforts of their homes and work in factories. Give or take a few years, and one can observe a reversal taking place where the workforce is shifting back home some three centuries later, and like the last time, the impetuous change has not been sitting well with the masses, engendering miscellaneous troubles.

Over the past few months, the world health has taken a dip due to the novel coronavirus, and governments are facing a dearth of coping options, being forced towards massive scale lockdowns. Barring the cardinal sector employees i.e. the healthcare and policing staff, and key government workers who have kept the country up and running, the government restricted all others within the safety of their homes. When the majority of workers suddenly found themselves idle due to a mass suspension of business activities, others struggled to implement the sudden work-from-home culture without proper technology or training.

Indian businesses at large have not been enthusiastic about the virtual way of working, and favour sealing deals in ink and pen. This practice is shouldered on many reasons ranging from widespread digital illiteracy, bias towards face-to-face operations, lack of reliable IT infrastructure, various misconceptions towards technology usage in work culture, etc.

At times, employers forget to keep work communication limited to office hours and end up hampering an employee’s personal life, which might lead to employee burnout down the line.

Fallacious Perceptions

From an Indian employer’s perspective, work-from-home is essentially considered an excuse leveraged by an employee to run errands at home while being available via ‘email’, whereas staring at a laptop or mobile screen while at home is considered a sign of indolence or delinquency by the family. These negative perceptions against work-from-home makes it difficult for a person to work with concentration and be productive at home, or get respect and enumeration for such work at the workplace.

Not Saving Any, But Wasting Many

The biggest thumbs up for the work-from-home culture springs from the time saved on sluggish hours of commute and brutal morning dress-ups, but it isn’t as rosy as one would picture. Indian homes are simply not designed or habitual for work-from-home employees, therefore every time an extended family member, a child, neighbors, delivery person, milkman, house-help, etc decide to show up, or there is a pending home chore (more so for female employees), work ends up being delayed. Moreover, commotion and interference are inescapable since the concept of a separate study is not yet common in middle-income homes.

Too Quick, Too Forced 

Unfamiliar with the work-from-home culture, most employers are also finding it tough to strike an optimum balance, and are either overworking or underworking their employees. At times, employers forget to keep work communication limited to office hours and end up hampering an employee’s personal life, which might lead to employee burnout down the line. There is a lack of measuring units for remote work in most job profiles, which makes it difficult to separate the non-productive employees from the lot, in the absence of real oversight. Another big problem is disengagement an employee faces from the vision and strategy of their company, as they are disconnected from their usual work culture like sneaky water cooler moments, office gossip over tea and lunch breaks, etc., all this while working in unfamiliar hours from their usual 9-to-5.

Technological Hiccups 

COVID-19 has pushed the Indian society into an accelerated adoption of the digital way of life. The new normal of cooking, dressing, talking, and even exercising using/via online content has been welcomed by many Indian homes, irrespective of income and cultural backgrounds. It would be impractical to discuss work-from-home without acknowledging the role and importance of digital technology as a key enabler. But this very aspect has become a nightmare for anyone above 40 years of age or sluggish in adapting to the digital landscape.

work-from-home
Purchasing of laptops and tablets, installation of wifi, etc. saw a surge during the countrywide lockdown owing to high demand from workers, school children and teachers alike.

 

Purchasing of laptops and tablets, installation of wifi, etc. saw a surge during the countrywide lockdown owing to high demand from workers, school children and teachers alike. Most lower and middle-income homes have come under undue pressure of bearing this unplanned expenditure, creating an entire chunk of the Indian population vulnerable to cyber crimes as well. On top of that, an unreliable Internet connection, frequent computer breakdowns and treacherous video conferencing apps are major work inhibitors and don’t inspire confidence in society, whose workforce is taking baby steps in virtual ways of doing business.

Learning how to micro-manage and instruct a team via emails or business management softwares without proper training and experience is making a manager, owner or principal more focused on technological glitches rather than the actual work. This becomes a critical issue when you intersect it with age-learning difficulties, eyesight issues, language barriers and so on.

Conclusion

The countrywide lockdown has forced industries into a hasty and patchy adoption of some version of work-from-home. Due to sudden shift in work practices, absence of well-thought remote working policy, and a lack of employee skills related to virtual work management (technical, psychological, etc.), work-from-home is haunting a worker’s mind. But, in these uncertain times when businesses in the country are laying off employees or shutting down completely, dealing with work-from-home issues will not make it to their list of priorities.

Certain factions of the IT sector, startups, content creators, etc. are some of the sectors which have been implementing work-from-home even before the pandemic struck, given their early embracing of digital working frameworks. Other businesses can look up to them to make themselves familiar with the intricacies and toil that goes into working from home before they can give precedence to proper policymaking.

Every aspect of our life has transcended into new realms of uncertainty, and we have stepped into a new and forced reality, but a reality nevertheless. We need to make our society comfortable with the new normal, and moving ahead, we need to plan our lives and work accordingly.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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