When this week began, I found myself at a friend’s apartment. He wasn’t having off from work, and opted to work remotely on that day. The remote place was his flat, and I was there. He works with a consulting firm and had his calls scheduled with colleagues from the US. The time he had the call he was at his desk, checking Email conversations, and speaking with colleagues and client. Everything appeared working smoothly.
Next day, he had taken an off, and we were having a conversation on the balcony during evening hours. I asked him about why he doesn’t plan to switch the job after working with the firm for these many years. The conversation came down to discussing work culture, and a sense of independence his colleagues and company have provided to him. Rarely I get to hear that, and I often strike such conversations with people to listen to their experiences. The ideas and learnings brew in those conversations.
“The colleagues are very cooperative,” my friend says it with pride. “Nobody puts you down or gets angry at you even if you have committed an error. They don’t interfere in your personal life, and they are well aware of the importance of integrity that everybody aims for. There is some sort of work-life balance as well.”
“But you never get to see them.”
He puts it in a hushed tone. I immediately intervene and ask what did you say. “See, we operate from different offices in India and outside the country, there are different teams at work. Presently, the team I’m working with has none of my office colleagues, all of them are working from different offices, different countries. So, you never get to see them. And that you have to accept.”
These words struck a chord inside my head. Remote working is a cost-effective luxury, but people you work with, who put their trust on you, might not see you in person ever.
The other day I was speaking with a woman over a call, who has two children and is staying at home to look after her son as he is sitting for board examinations. “You have to be at home, and most times, you are just alone. I have earlier had a full-time job, so there were people whom you can interact with, but after leaving the job, as the days take over, they start taking a toll on your mental health,” she said it to me during the conversation.
“There’s this desktop, smartphone, and you just keep doing this and that on them, but there’s no human on the other side, and when someone’s there, it still is a desktop to me. It doesn’t have a human element. That element is missing, and loneliness starts creeping in.”
“But this responsibility is most important to me at this point in time. And once his boards are over, I will be back to doing a full-time job, I think,” she added.
Remote working and the everyday concerns it comes with aren’t confined to any age group, and well, of course, the reasons could vary. There are many platforms and tools that keep you getting work and connected. All you need are skills to showcase and a bank account. The easier it sounds the tougher it gets once you get onto the task after taking it up.
You have to meet the trust, expectations and deadlines, then you have to add the finished task to your portfolio to show it to another client, and the chain continues. To the other side, tracking the cultural shift, the companies which were earlier hesitant for allowing their full-time staffers to work remotely are now examining their costs and processes, and many have settled with the idea of remote working.
I have heard people say that many colleagues show up in the office only on the days when there is some important meeting, otherwise they don’t. Some people haven’t come to the office for a continuous twenty days, and some are still trying to register the idea of remote working.
When you are at the office, you feel you are one of those who is “among them”. But when you start staying away from the cubicle, you are seemingly no more a part of the group; you only learn about the happenings late night, if a colleague had called you otherwise you won’t have any idea about the workspace you once used to work from. You can hear many full-time staffers telling you this. Remote working, many a time, takes away a sense of togetherness that you once had when you were showing up at the office.
You don’t stay in the loop of the conversations, the only loop you are irresistibly part of is the one that is reminding you about the call you have with a colleague in the next five minutes. And then, there is a fear of missing out. We are all engaged with various emotions that only our mind and soul know about, and sometimes, the same emotions become more of a distraction.
The distractions sometimes leave a void that later makes you realise you have hit a stage of burnout. The burnout dries your throat and hits on your productivity, and the other side of the laptop can’t hear you, and that becomes demanding to get through for many remote workers.
I’m someone who has never had a full-time job at any office, sometimes I’m working from my room, or a friend’s apartment, or from the balcony of my home. I have never been able to work from a cafe, regardless of how the generation puts all its efforts to make it sound comforting; for me, it has only come with a frustrating experience. Only good for coffees and chai, that’s where all the stories of cafe should end, you can add your dating stories too if you like to, but that’s all.
So, sometimes when I take a look at myself, I think of everyone and every conversation I had. Of every full-time staffer who had complained about their manager for not allowing to work remotely, and of those who want their employees to sit in the office, to leave only after the working hours even when the tasks for the day are over. Of those who come back home cribbing in late evening hours, and of those who have yet to wait to get on to the call with one of their colleagues who went to office today.
The resultants could be very comforting for a nonconformist, but at the same time, the comfort zone for emotions might lie elsewhere.
The challenges are many that don’t meet an eye for getting all of us covered to decide on with the shift in the culture, the human element, and the loyalty a company looks for. The balance somewhere misses out from the portfolio of our everyday life, while we binge on Netflix and look for the timeline of the next online course that is yet to commence in the next few hours.
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