WFH? Classical and Quantum approach — A perspective

“I am not a great fan of work from home at all. When people work from home, that institutional culture will slowly become weaker and weaker. It was easier to build a culture of ‘hard work, imagination, excellence, intuition, meritocracy, discussion and debate’ when people were working from offices” said Infosys Co-founder N R Narayana Murthy in his recent interview.

We don’t need much introduction about Narayana Murthy. He is the co-founder of Infosys and is regarded as the “Father of Indian IT sector” by Time magazine and CNBC for his extraordinary contribution to outsourcing in India.

He further said, “I believe the office is the place to work, home is the place to spend time with your loved ones. Mixing the two is not a good idea on a long-term basis. Yeah, I understand that there is no alternative therefore, we have adapted. But this should be a short-term solution. “I think if the Indian IT industry moves from being reactive problem solvers to proactive problem definers and solution providers, then our per capita revenue productivity will improve. We will become much better known and the growth will be spectacular,”

However, his statements have stirred up multiple debates in the Technology and Business community.

What do I mean by the Classical and Quantum approaches?

The classical approach is more casual. Some knowledge of the past allows computation of a precise future. Likewise, some knowledge of the future allows computation of a precise past. It is either 0 or 1.

In the Quantum approach, it is the combination of both. It is in between 0 and 1. It is more of a probabilistic prediction.

Let’s understand our eco-system a little more

Many claimed that WFH has been greatly productive in terms of cutting down on travel time, unnecessary expenditure, and physical strain. Adding to it, we have witnessed the benefit of spending time with family, the opportunity to stay at our native, connecting with local business, contributing to the local eco-system, etc.

I am going to share some perspectives considering the larger operative environment we are all part of. This essay is more applicable and specific to the IT industry.

Mere communication is different from effective collaboration. To conveniently trade ideas, share the experience, and keep the work flowing smoothly, collaboration is more significant than communication. Based on the type of project, multiple platforms are needed for collaboration, and staff would need time to learn and utilize the tool efficiently. The tool may be for video conferencing, defect tracking, instant messaging, or bulletin boards.

Psychologically, constantly running TV shows, family members checking in and out, sounds and smell from the kitchen, the lazy couches, dining tables are not conducive to productivity over the long haul, computer systems all around, server rooms, and professional peers.

Everyone will not have the luxury of defining a dedicated space for working at home and this will be an issue for employees and employers alike over time. People are comfortable working in ergonomically designed chairs and desks which has helped them to be more focused on the task at hand.

Though we have seen an upgrade regarding the internet connectivity, a considerable amount of time has gone in the name of “downtime” due to the non-availability of the network if we encapsulate all the regions in India where people have opted to stay and work. More than a voice call, video conferencing conveys more information, but than a video, in-person communication is much more effective. Nothing can take the place of person-to-person interaction for some forms of business exchange and operations.

To sit with a stranger at lunch in the cafeteria and spark a new conversation or to pass by a new employee’s desk to introduce yourself, we don’t have a virtual setup. There are surely some attempts made on this front. MS Teams or Zoom has given features like virtual lunch, virtual happy hours, or ‘watercooler’ chat rooms, but nothing can replicate the true spontaneity or depth of connection of a physical workspace. For a lot of reasons, these connections and relationships are valuable. Workplace rapport is important to employee happiness and engagement. It is easier to keep employees committed to the company during challenging times. There is a high possibility of unlocking new ideas, enhancing cultural charm, and free sharing of knowledge across the teams.

If we bring in another perspective on this subject, there lies a strong business logic behind the reluctance of some IT firms to provide permanent work from home options. We have witnessed a surge in Cyber Attacks during the WFH period due to pandemic which is certainly a security concern for the clients. It is even more challenging to maintain productivity over a long time for Indian IT companies if they have a huge workforce.

For global corporations like Microsoft, Twitter, Google, or Facebook, the offices in India are considered as “Cost centers”. Whereas, for Indian IT companies especially in the service-based arena, the physical offices operate as “Profit centers”. The ODC — Offshore Development Center is a paid business, and the IT companies charge the clients for ODC. The first thing the clients did was to cut down on paying the ODC charges when IT companies conveyed that their employees will be working from home due to the pandemic. If the WFH continues for a longer period or permanently, the ODC as a business line will take a huge hit. At the other end, for other global companies, offices are cost centers. Therefore, they will be happy to save the costs if employees opt to WFH. It is a complicated process to equate both the categories here. And if we say as employees, we are anyway not impacted due to the loss of ODC business of our employer, wait for it to be reflected on your pay-slip. We are slowly disturbing the business ecosystem.

When people are asked to work alone, though virtually connected, young people can lose out on experiential learning. And for all the people, going to the office is not just to work. There are added intangible benefits in terms of fun and exposure.

For some of the experienced professionals, drawing a line between home and office time became a huge challenge. Though it attributes to individual ability and skill, they are all part of our system. On the other hand, the task of explaining not to disturb while we are at work to the family who is seasoned in orthodoxical and traditional work outlook is a humungous task and most of the time uncomfortable.

There is always a tinge of “glamour” attached to the corporate sector which attracts thousands of people towards it. Dressing up for success is always a thing people looked forward to.

For organizations, it is always found that decision-making with confidence is faster in an office environment. With the more sophisticated technology, though it is convenient to share information through a digital medium, collaborative learning is much more than mere data transmission. Genuine managers always prefer to go from desk to desk to do an empathy check on their staff while both parties enjoy chatting on topics that may not be related to work at all.

There are of course others benefits with permanent remote work. There’s a potential possibility for improved work-life balance and the opportunity to spend more time with family. We have the environmental benefits of remote work especially appealing. Indian IT industry showed its resilience adapting to the WFH model during the pandemic without encountering much of the operational disruption and damage. Employees are happy because of obvious reasons like being in their hometown with their family, no traveling, no direct monitoring, and a lot of savings since the expenses have been reduced to negligible.

Conclusion

We can consciously draw that rather than taking a Classical approach of sticking to either 0 or 1, it is sensible to embrace a Quantum approach placing the subject of our discussion that takes most of the benefits by the essential combination. A customized hybrid model is a reliable approach.

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Bharadwaj D J

Bharadwaj D J

I break into things because I know nothing!

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