More and more information technology companies are offering work-from-home options to their employees. With the workforce becoming a key resource for the IT companies, they are offering innovative flexible workplace options to retain and attract the best resources.
This is a particularly happy situation for women who aspire for a healthier work-life balance.
"I have been working from home for the last eight months and everybody tells me I am extremely lucky. I also believe that my productivity and loyalty has increased tremendously since I started working from home. I am grateful that my company helped me solve the problem of looking after my kid," says Pooja Sehgal, who works for Delhi-based Impetus Technologies.
Although this option is offered to all employees, it is usually take up by the women, especially after or during pregnancy, which increases their home responsibility.
"We roughly have about 1-4 per cent of our staff working on this mode on an average. A majority of the women avail of the flexi-time option," says Kalpana Srinivasan, Head-HR, Aspire Systems. Aspire Systems is a firm helping software companies create innovative products.
The concept of office time itself is undergoing a dramatic change. Companies are no longer interested in employees who come and serve 'chair time' with not much involvement in work and then head back home.
It is clearly a win-win situation for both the women employees and their employers. It helps the employers attract a wide calibre of employees and reduces employee turnover. Flexible workplace also reduces absenteeism, increases employee morale.
The concept was initially started by the IT majors. "We believe that flexible work environment gives employees more flexibility and control over their work as an important means to achieve greater work/life balance and enhanced productivity. We (at IBM) are flexible in how and where the work gets accomplished and are focused on results and positive business outcomes and not 'face time/chair time'. Flexibility at the IBM workplace is a big attraction to new talent and increases effectiveness, focus and productivity," says Martin Appel, Country Manager, HR, IBM India.
In fact, IBM offers four types of work options: Compressed/flexible work week, which entails that the full, regular work week is compressed into less than five days; individualized work schedule, where employees have flexible timings; part-time reduced work schedule; and lastly, a work-from-home option where an employee performs a majority of her primary duties from home.
However, the picture is not all rosy. There are some issues which have to be worked out before the concept is accepted as a regular practice. "The days I have some responsibility at home, like taking my son to a doctor or picking him from school (for some reason), I take the work-from-home option. Although this option certainly makes life easier, one cannot always follow it, especially if one wants to climb the corporate ladder. The more you grow, the more one has to interact, attend meetings etc, and all this is not possible from home," says Sanjeevani Mahajan, Project Manager, Manufacturing Vertical, KPIT Cummins.
There are practical difficulties. The difficulty of managing home workers; monitoring their performance; and the difficulty of maintaining staff development. There is also a risk of information security and difficulty in upgrading skills through training or knowledge sharing.
"This option may hamper the growth prospects of an employee especially if the employee wants to play a managerial role later. However, if the role is of a single contributor, it doesn't matter," says Girish Wardadkar, President and Executive Director, KPIT Cummins.
People working from home also have to struggle against challenges. "Initially, it was difficult to do the balancing act. Somebody would drop by to 'see' my child etc, but now it is very clear. I have decided not to get up for everything that is happening in the home. Initially, I used to go to office once in a fortnight but now I go once a week. I plan to continue with this option till my child starts going to a play school," says Sehgal.
However, Sehgal does not believe that this arrangement is going to hamper her growth prospects. The company has been very supportive. "When I started working like this, there were two people in my team and today there are six, so obviously my profile has increased."
Most people say their productivity increases when they work from home. "I am comfortable in my home. I believe that productivity increases since I am at peace that my child is well taken care of. Moreover, I save on travel time. I am connected to my office all the time," says Mahalaxmi Santharam, Project manager at Chennai-based Aspire Technologies. She has a three-month old child and has been working from home for the last nine months. She is four years old in the company.