Beyond the pageant
I don’t follow beauty pageants any more. During the time that I was keenly following it, a very popular question used to be “Who is your role model”. The contestants are trained for these naive but sometimes tricky questions. For a long time, contestants would respond with “Mother Theresa” and go on to justify their choice. Was Mother Theresa really the role model for so many beauty contestants. Probably no. Was that the right answer though for the competition. Probably yes.
In the current scenario, a common question posed to business leaders is “How are you coping with Work From home?” And almost instantly they have a well rehearsed “beauty pageant” response. “It’s going great. Our productivity has gone up. We onboard virtually, we celebrate success on zoom……”
I have seen several companies thumping their chests on crossing 100 days of lockdown induced WFH. Do the celebrations really convey the reality or is it just that no one wants to admit that its absolutely boring to work from home and just not enjoyable.
Having scanned several sources – more than 100 individuals – across LinkedIn, customers, friends, colleagues, businessman across industries, members of my running group and my family, I’m reasonably convinced that decision makers are happy about WFH and the results they get out of it, but no one else.
I vividly remember a newspaper article in my childhood days that had a lengthy article on Japan – their growth, their post-world war turnaround, engineering excellence, etc whose title read thus: Japan is happy, Japanese are not. From Business standpoint, whoever chose to WFH, the situation is similar: Bosses are happy, employees are not.
Compared to many industries, IT industry in India has probably embraced WFH a lot better, potentially influenced by western clients and cross cultural appreciation. Even there, I’ve spoken to more than 50 people who are eagerly looking forward to getting back to their office. Of course, everyone understands the virus situation and do want to stay safe and therefore adapt to WFH. However, there are companies - IT and others that have already announced that they are closing offices and will permanently WFH?
There are HR heads working 24x7 to re-define policies to enable WFH – furniture allowance, flexible times, optional holidays to more thought provoking ones such as purpose of ID card and definition of casual leave.
These decisions, while may be well thought out, possibly missed out on the Indian cultural DNA.
Culturally, Indians are collectivist in mindset. We have a long history of joint families, businesses run by families, large gatherings for weddings, even larger gatherings for funerals, we do better in team sports, even in tennis we have seen more success in doubles category than singles, association to one’s community/caste is always emotional, independents rarely make a mark in politics as people prefer to vote for a party than a specific voter in a constituency, we look forward to instructions from the top – political, organizational, educational and familial – and expect the crowd to follow the instructions. We derive comfort when in a group.
Globalization and social media is certainly driving Indians towards a more western-like individualistic mindset, but hey, we are still largely and generally collectivist.
Few companies have handled the shift to WFH with absolute ease. This is largely due to these companies practicing (from Pre-Covid times) high levels of Trust and Empowerment, institutionalized enablement for experimentation and adaptation and higher maturity levels for self management.
Collectivist cultures will struggle big time with WFH over elongated periods. People will be emotionally drained and familial stress will increase with prolonged WFH. Coaching and Counselling are needed but will have an effect on the symptoms and not on the cause. Getting back to office will probably be the cure.
Those burying their heads in the commercial real estate industry – hold on tight, persevere, be patient. You will be back in demand. Office space solutions may also need to pivot from large concentrated blocks to distributed and networked spaces. The solution may be your old office block or somewhere between your old office and your home, but definitely not in your home!!