How ‘work from anywhere’ can become a problem for employers

While organisations were quick to offer high levels of flexibility to their employees amidst the raging pandemic, will the ‘work-from-anywhere’ model work once normalcy returns?

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When the second wave of the pandemic spread panic worldwide, companies woke up to the fact that they would not be able to bring their employees back to office anytime soon. The risk to health and life, and mobility restrictions, combined with the uncertainty surrounding the future made organisations announce ‘work from anywhere’ policies. Most employers around the world, even in India, allowed their employees to work from any location of their choice, providing them the flexibility to choose.

Aegon Life allowed its employees to work from anywhere in the country, irrespective of the location at which they joined the Company.

“I have personally come across cases, where remote employees were simultaneously working on third-party projects or taking up freelance work. This has raised the eyebrows of companies, causing them to take required action to manage such situations”

Jagjit Singh, former chief people officer, PwC India

Following this, Edelweiss General Insurance, another insurance startup, came up with a work-from- anywhere policy for its employees in India, whose nature of job did not require them to be physically present in the office. Such employees were allowed to work from a location of their preference.

In the UK, employees of Delloitte were given permission to work from anywhere, forever. Spotify gave flexibility to its employees to choose to work remotely or from co-working spaces of their convenience or from the office.

These are just a handful of examples. Many other IT giants, where a significant part of the workforce already enjoyed the luxury of working from home have not yet made any formal announcements on whether their employees can work from any location. In fact, HRKatha is aware of certain companies that do not allow their employees to work from other locations, except their home or office. Why is that?

A chat with some of the HR leaders in the industry reveals that work-from-anywhere — which really seems to be a very appealing proposition to give flexibility to employees and even attract new talent — comes with its own set of challenges for corporates and employers.

Increasing labour cost

During an interaction with HRKatha, Debjani Roy, CHRO, Mind Your Fleet, recalls going on a vacation — when COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed — and spending some time relaxing at a lavish and luxurious resort. There, she observed that a bunch of seven to eight people would start their breakfast quite early and then work on their laptops. By interacting with these people, Roy found out that they were working professionals, who were enjoying a vacation, while working.Most of them were mid-level managers and team leaders who had been staying at the resort for last three months!

“In a work-from-anywhere scenario, there is no way to trace or keep track of the different locations the employees are working from. This can make the model challenging and difficult to digest for certain organisations”

Debjani Roy, CHRO, Mind Your Fleet

Being aware that the property was a luxurious one, Roy couldn’t help wondering how these professionals could sustain such an expensive lifestyle. Surely, they would realise what a hole they had burnt in their pockets once they returned home, she had thought. The expenses would probably urge them to seek move incentives or demand a hike. After witnessing the lifestyle of these professionals, Roy suspects that in some companies work-from-anywhere is bound to cause a spike in labour costs.

Trust factor

Trust between employees and their employers is an unsaid and undocumented contract that exists between them. For companies with big workforces distributed across the world, managing and keeping track of their employees will become a daunting task in a work-from-anywhere model.

Presently, the demand for tech talent is surging as organisations, worldwide, are accelerating their digitalisation process. There is a shortage of talent, because everyone is relying on the same talent pool. Jagjit Singh, former chief people officer, PwC India, shares that since many of the employees in the IT sector were working from distributed locations, there were instances of dual employment. That is, many employees worked full time with their employers and also took on freelance projects on the side. This naturally hampers the productivity of such employees. Most importantly, the managers of such employees end up losing their trust in them.

“As long as people are delivering as per expectations, we do not mind where they are working from”

Nihar Ghosh, president – HR, Emami

Such instances have led companies to come up with ways to track the IP addresses of their employees. “In a work-from-anywhere scenario, there is no way to trace or keep track of the different locations the employees are working from. This can make the model challenging and difficult to digest for certain organisations,” points out Roy.

Singh admits having personally come across cases, where remote employees were simultaneously working on third-party projects or taking up freelance work. “This has raised the eyebrows of companies, causing them to take required action to manage such situations,” states Singh.

Performance & delivery

On the other hand, there are also companies that appreciate this model of work. “As long as people are delivering as per expectations, we do not mind where they are working from,” says Nihar Ghosh, president – HR, Emami. Ghosh shares that, at Emami, only 30 to 40 per cent of the roles can be worked remotely. As an organisation, however, Emami does not worry about where the employees are delivering from — home, office or anywhere else.

Singh and Roy both foresee all the companies curtailing flexibility and putting a check on these benefits with the return of normalcy. “All the employers who were talking of providing flexibility to employees during the pandemic, will limit such benefits when things become normal. They will only extend these benefits as and when the employees or situations require,” asserts Singh.

Clearly, organisations that have rolled out a work-from-anywhere policy may seriously need to think the decision through and make necessary modifications for the model to really work.

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