Is work from home the only way to beat traffic and achieve a better work-life balance? The jury is out there In November 2018, Ola’s Ease of Moving report found that the average speed of vehicles in Bengaluru’s traffic is just 15.5km per hour, down from the 17.2 km per hour reported by the same study in December 2017. The average Bengalurean, then, is spending 10 to 12 hours out of home for an eight-hour work shift. Little wonder, that 13.88% of working professionals in Bengaluru and beyond are looking for flexi-work hour options to opt out of the daily commute. As reported by the Future of Flexible Working Survey, released recently by a job portal, 60% want it to be able to maintain a good work/life balance, while 6.37% want to save on the cost of their commute. Of the respondents (70% fall into the age bracket of 22-30 years), 39% prefer flexi-work hours, 30.98% would like to work from home (WHF) once or twice a month and 6.36% per cent want to work out of their homes every single day. And companies seem to be complying. The JobsForHer’s DivHersity Benchmarking Report 2019, which saw applications from 300+ companies (large, SME’s and startups) across India, found that 59% of companies offer job flexibility, 59% offer work-from-home options and 55% offer a sabbatical leave policy. (For a more detailed break-up, see the graphic). Stay home, skip the jam Indeed, WFH is a more practical solution for Bengaluru’s infamous traffic. Take software engineer Nitish Kumar (27), who was late to his office by over 25 minutes on Wednesday, due to Ramzan festivities. Kumar would have preferred a WFH option that day, to save time and be more productive. N Balachander, Group Director – Human Resources, Coffee Day Group, also gets requests from people who want to avoid traffic. And he acquiesces. “We encourage it when the work can be done remotely, because we ha ve the faith and confidence that people will deliver.” Flexi-work hours also work for companies, helping them save on the cost of real estate and overheads. Balachander cites IBM as an example of a firm that pays an allowance to employees working from home. According to Priya Chetty-Rajagopal, managing partner at Multiversal, a niche executive search firm, this is because technology – cloud and data services – have made flexi-work easy today and “helps companies save huge costs on overheads”. Shahid Ahmed, HR team lead at an IT company located off Sarjapur Road, gets requests – often on a Wednesday – from employees who stay far off, in places such as Jalahalli, Kengeri or Yelahanka, and want a mid-week break from the daily commute. Why it matters As Chetty-Rajagopal says, in a global workforce, WFH is no longer “a perk”. “It’s a great option when work output can be counted – such as transcription and coding roles. Many technology, services and technology-enables roles lend themselves to flexi-work hours.” As do back-office functions. “People – especially knowledge workers – want to be measured on output, not on the time they clocked in,” Balachander explains. “We have had designers who come in for a meeting with the client on Monday, and say they’ll return on Friday with designs. In the IT industry, where they can track attendance online, coders can turn in projects from home.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for certains teams in tech companies to work remotely for entire months at a time. If IT firms, BPOs etc coordinate their WFH plans and encourage other companies as well… we can measure the impact it would have on the traffic­ –Jagadeesh, DCP Traffic East What matters, Chetty-Rajagopal says, is that the role must be “disconnected to presenteeism, and must be able to be quantified, irrespective of location”. For millennials, especially, it’s tied in with their need to feel “connected” to their work. “They want to be able to bring all of themselves into work. They need purpose, and a feeling that the locus of control lies with them. This gives them that.” There’s also a flipside: WFH can also be isolating because of the lack of professional interactions, and distractions. Kumar, for instance, wouldn’t want to work from home every day. “I’d need a separate workroom to stave off distractions as well as constant power, Internet and remote access. Otherwise my productivity would suffer.” Vandana BC (26), a developer working with an MNC, says: “Traffic is a sensitive issue in India, but not so much in the countries our managers work out of. They might not understand why this is necessary. Some require employees to work on the floor.” Balachander agrees: “A factory worker has to be on the factory floor, a sales worker has to be on the sales floor. So it’s role- based.”Measure output Ashok Reddy is a technical lead at a service-based company at a tech park in Bellandur. He receives at least one WFH request every week, and would be amenable to granting more. But not everyone is open to the idea, he says. “Eighty per cent of managers think workers chill out during WFH. This assumption is not always right. So how easily you can get WFH also depends on your manager.” As Balachander says, “especially in older, more traditional organisations, there is a trust deficit. There needs to be more of a cultural maturity shift”. Some employees misuse WHF, which forces managers to mandate presenteeism, feels Ahmed. “Some people apply for WFH to save on their casual leaves and sick leaves,” he says. Chetty-Rajagopal concurs. “If you want privileges like WFH, you have to be respectful of them. Deliverables have to be submitted on time, and rules have to be respected.” Ahmed believes a person “can only be 70% productive while working at home”, because of chores and family commitments. Still, organisations should prioritise employee satisfaction because, “people are productive when we give them what they want, including flexible work hours”. It could free up roads Could frequent, coordinated WFH also ease the city’s traffic snarls? “Yes, if IT companies, BPOs and outsourcing firms coordinate their WFH plans and encourage other companies as well. Only then we can measure the impact it would have on the traffic,” says Jagadeesh, DCP Traffic East. Reddy believes that “if 25% of employees in my tech park stay back home, it will shave 15 minutes off my commute”. But… However, architect and urban designer Naresh Narasimhan believes the same cannot be replicated in Bengaluru. “A lot of work done in India cannot be done by employees on their own. It requires teamwork and collaboration. And even when WFH and flexible working hours are offered, it cannot be at a scale large enough to impact traffic and the environment here, positively. The only thing that will impact traffic and the environment positively is de-motorising the roads and investing in public transport.”