Working in AC times

Courtesy Covid-19 and its widespread impact, our lives can now be split into three distinct epochs - Before Covid (BC), During Covid (DC) and, assuming no further catastrophic waves and variants, After Covid (AC).

As I live in India:
  • BC refers to the time before March 24, 2020 - the date we were introduced to the concept of a lockdown and full-time work from home (WFH).
  • DC refers to the time from that date till about March 2022 (approximately two years). During this time, the fight against Covid-19 saw valleys of despair (first, second and third waves) and peaks of hope (vaccination drives and overcoming the waves).
  • AC refers to the time from April 2022 onwards.
In times BC, professionals in the educational technology (EdTech) sector in which I worked showed up at office 5 days a week. All meetings and interactions were in person; this was the accepted and 'normal' way of working. Commuting, packed lunch boxes (or visits to the nearest darshini), tea/coffee breaks and games of carrom, table tennis and foosball were all part and parcel of the routine.

Covid-19 radically changed all this.

In times DC, a corner or room in our homes was our new office. Meetings and interactions became 100% virtual with Zoom tiles as our avatars. Unless one counts the steps from the bed to the computer table as a commute, there was none! After years, weekday lunches were at the dining table surrounded by family. Breaks were quieter affairs sans the good-natured banter that accompanied them in the office.

Calling these changes a paradigm shift would be quite the understatement!

Covid-19 compelled us to reimagine and recalibrate the way we work. Both employees and companies had to adapt to the 'new normal' and mindsets around physical work spaces and collaboration were altered forever.

In this post, I'd like to present a picture of some of the key dilemmas being faced by employees in AC timesOffices have opened up and ignoring the learnings and experiences from the DC times would be unwise. In my opinion, creating a work environment that balances employees' and companies' expectations, while factoring in how the last 2+ years unfolded, is the need of the hour.

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I was hired during the pandemic and have been doing a good job from home. I have a settled life with my family here. Do I compulsorily need to relocate?

In BC times, an implicit understanding was that, if you accepted a job offer, you would move to the village/town/city in which the company was based (unless your role was for a specific region like in the case of sales or field teams).

In AC times, employees are openly questioning whether they need to uproot their lives for a job that could be done from home (assuming decent internet connectivity). Online tools that promote collaboration and that can be accessed from anywhere have strengthened their arguments.

My view - companies need to be flexible in their policies if they want to retain talent. They must consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether an existing employee genuinely needs to relocate to do his/her job well. Options such as bimonthly or quarterly team outings/sessions can be explored so that face-to-face interaction isn't altogether absent.

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I live in the city in which the company is based. However, most of my team members stay in different parts of the country as the company is operating in a loosely hybrid mode. If I go to the office, I still have to collaborate virtually. Do I still need to come to the office?

Considering the traffic woes that employees in urban setups face, this is a pertinent question. Depending on the distance between their homes and offices, employees could spend anywhere between 1 to 3 hours of personal time (check out this article and this one too) just commuting to and from work! The toll that crawling through congested roads with blaring horns takes on employees shouldn't be underestimated. If one's team members aren't going to be in the office, then the employee could work just as effectively from home while saving time too.

My view - rather than insisting on such employees coming to the office each day (or even for 3 days a week for that matter), work out an arrangement in which he/she comes once a week so that they can stay connected with the office space and informally interact/bond with people outside their team. Having to negotiate a commute just once a week is infinitely more appealing than having to suffer daily especially if their homes are far from the office!

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I was hired during the pandemic with a salary that was appropriate at the time. However, with inflation and being asked to relocate to a city with a high cost of living, my current salary is inadequate. What should I do?

Valid question.

With companies reducing costs during the pandemic either through layoffs or salary cuts, employees' compensation packages either saw marginal increases, stagnated or, in the worst case, saw decreases to counter losses in revenue.

At the same time, prices of commodities (such as packaged food items, fuel etc.) have increased leading to a cash crunch at home.

Stewing in dissatisfaction over one's salary can - (i) lead to unhappiness and stress and/or (ii) drive a person to look for opportunities elsewhere.

My view - have a direct conversation with your reporting manager outlining your concerns. Elaborate on the value that you bring to the team and quote a number that you believe represents your worth. Depending on the action that the company takes following this conversation, you will get a good sense of how it values you.

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With WFH, I became comfortable with flexible work timings. This flexibility has reduced with the office reopening and I find it difficult to work within fixed timings. What should I do?

In BC times, employees were (by and large) expected to physically 'clock in' by a certain time each day - either through ID card scanning, logging into the intranet system or any other means that the company subscribed to. They were expected to spend a certain amount of time in the office (hopefully, engaged in fruitful work! 😄) before calling it a day.

In DC times, not having to physically register oneself as present brought with it a flexibility that was quite liberating for many! Being able to leisurely login (minus the commute), work while attending to domestic responsibilities in parallel and not 'clocking out' at a fixed time at such was quite a shift - both practically and mentally.

My view - flexibilities provided cannot be absolute. For smooth collaboration, employees need to be in sync with one another and this requires a solid window of time during the day when they are at their systems. Hence, having a window of at least 6 hours during which employees are expected to be at the office and/or available for meetings, collaborative work, brainstorming etc. would be ideal. I believe that it is important for companies not to get fixated on the specific times that employees come and go so long as they are available during that window. Companies should focus on whether quality work is being done while sticking to commitments and deadlines.

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These are the key dilemmas that come to my mind; I am sure that there are more - not just those faced by employees but by companies too! 😅 Being an employee, I have written this post from that vantage point. The content is grounded in personal experiences, discussions and anecdotes that I have heard from friends and colleagues working in sectors where WFH is a practical option.