As India begins its covid vaccination drive, the big question facing individuals and companies concerns the work-from-home (WFH) routine that most urban Indians have accepted during the pandemic. As the ranks of the vaccinated swell and immunity levels build up, will it mark an end to WFH? Or will WFH still remain a widely-used option, even in the post-pandemic world?
Data from the latest round of the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey suggests that WFH fatigue is for real. But for a sizeable section, the WFH routine has meant more time for sleep and exercise, improved relations with family members, and better mental health than before.
A majority of respondents (55%) said that working without colleagues around them was unsatisfactory. But a significant minority (45%) feels otherwise, and said that WFH boosts productivity levels. There is a similar divide about the future of WFH, with half of workers working from home expressing desire to return to office life, and the rest preferring WFH.
The survey suggests that the WFH model may suit some demographic groups much more than others. Those who earn less, or are poorly educated, had already returned, or perhaps been forced to return to their offices by the time the survey took place. Many of them work in sectors or roles where WFH is not easy. In contrast, the better-educated and the richer respondents were working from home in larger numbers.
The YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey covered nearly 10,000 respondents spread across 203 cities and towns of the country. Roughly half of the respondents in the online survey conducted in the Oct-Nov 2020 period were millennials (aged 24 to 39). The rest were post-millennials (aged 18 to 23) and pre-millennials (above 39). The survey is the fifth of a series of bi-annual online surveys aimed at examining the aspirations, anxieties, and attitudes of India’s digital natives.
IT (71%), education (63%), media and entertainment (59%), and e-commerce (57%) firms had a relatively higher share of their employees working from home. Energy (40%), automobile (42%), and retail/FMCG (43%) sectors had relatively fewer people working from home. Women (62%), more than men (50%), were likely to be working from home. This could be partly because they are more likely to be employed in sectors such as education and IT where most employees were in WFH mode. Surprisingly, it is the older generation that has returned to office in greater numbers compared to millennials and post-millennials.
Some sectors and companies were better able to leverage technology—procure laptops, move applications to the cloud or upgrade virtual private network (VPN)—to swiftly transition to WFH.
Going forward they may be more likely to continue with it.
As businesses took a hit, several companies switched to gig workers from full-time employees as a cost-cutting measure.
Investment in remote access and VPN services are now allowing more and more companies to bring on board gig workers remotely for specific assignments. Companies which can run with a high share of gig workers are also likely to continue working remotely since most gig workers tend to work from home.
WFH has meant a drastic fall in city commutes and saved commuting costs but it has added to the utility bills of respondents, the survey data shows. In the months to come, these trade-offs would be crucial inputs into whether or not employees opt for a return to office, or continue working remotely.
The survey data shows that many of those working from home are feeling more anxious today than they were before the pandemic began. But this is also true of those who have returned to the office, either full-time, or on rotation basis.
It is likely that factors other than remote working — such as financial stress, fear of job losses, anxieties regarding the pandemic etc. — are driving up anxiety levels of respondents. Overall, a greater proportion of those working from home reported an improvement in mental health compared to those who have returned to office. Better sleeping hours, more time for exercise, and improved bonding with family members may have led to the overall improvement in mental health, the data suggests.
The survey data suggests that companies and their HR managers may have a tough job in the months and years to come as they struggle to accommodate conflicting views on the WFH model.
It is likely that new hybrid models will emerge in due course but this is easier said than done. Changes in organizational structures and routines are seldom achieved in a short span of time, research suggests.
While WFH is likely to be added to the menu of options across a large number of firms, it may not be the dominant form of work as yet.