“Working from home” is a sound concept in the commercial sense. It saves real estate costs and investments, fuel reimbursements , expenses on tea , furnishings and coffee, lunch . A number of cleaners, peons and sundry helps can be asked to move on. The list of potential savings is perhaps endless.
While there is no alternative during times of a pandemic, of concern is the recent tendency to propagate WFH as a permanent feature or the new normal. A classic example of commercial interest predominating over the softer aspect of the human being as a social animal , of destroying the essence of the human identity. It is not that the employer will benefit in the long-run because the productivity of isolated individuals connected through the computer screen is bound to decline over time. However, short-term interests predominate, in this case immediate profits.
By nature, humans cannot excel without interacting with others. Not just corridor gossip but the overall process of working in a group at office invokes the pleasures of group working , coupled with learning experiences. Most of the time colleagues interact not for gossip but to exchange ideas, seek opinions and learn in the process. How many times in our life have a chance conversation with a colleague resulted in unlocking a problem grappling with for the last few days? How many times have we gone to our boss to seek his opinion on an issue? It can be argued that this can be achieved also through remote connectivity but the scope is limited due to bandwidth constraints , the process of calling more tedious than walking up to his room and the effectiveness diminished because there is no substitute to face-to-face discussions. It is easier to communicate through body-language, through expressions, by walking up to the whiteboard to draw a diagram or demonstrate a concept with the help of objects. To gauge his understanding from the expression on his face necessitating repetition of a concept. Then there are group brain-storming sessions to spark myriad ideas.
Studies of the “learning pyramid” indicate that while group discussions lead to 50 % retention. lecturing results in 5 % only. A practical demonstration generates 30 % , while reading can only be 10 %. effective .
Progressive organizations think differently. Yahoo revoked mobile work privileges since “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions.” Samsung’s US headquarters was designed to contain vast outdoor areas sandwiched between floors , luring Samsung’s engineers and salespeople to those spaces. “The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor,” said Scott Birnbaum, a vice president of Samsung Semiconductor. The new building “is really designed to spark not just collaboration but that innovation you see when people collide.”
A neglected aspect is the emotional quotient , honed by interactions with fellow human beings. A work-place is where we are compelled to visit . We can meet friends at a café or a pub only on weekends or on an occasional evening . The famous social neurologist, Mathew Lieberman ,has argued on the basis of empirical evidence that our need to be social is so strong that it could be rated as more fundamental than food and shelter. How many times have we pined for support from colleagues when faced with an intemperate boss ? Or sorted out a dispute between junior colleagues by making them sit face-to-face? Or a pat on the back, in the literal sense , from a boss has energised us ? Does not a gentle smile from a colleague of the opposite gender start off our day on a positive note? Or winning a table-tennis match at lunch-time?
The question naturally arises is – why is WFH then being propagated so hard recently, more so after the pandemic ? I have already stated that the it is to achieve short-term goals, the feature of neo-liberalism – the need more prominent now that we face a bleak recession. Do we remember the 2008 depression ? Are we to understand that the honchos were not aware that loan-fuelled growth was destined to fail at some point ? Also emblematic of the domineering philosophy. On the cusp of an Orwellian dystopia , we have stopped looking at human beings as human beings but cogs in a massive machine to generate profits . WFH beautifully slots into this denouement, reducing Man to an automaton or a Star Wars Droid.