The Homecoming: How work from home quickly becomes work from home
Last July, Yash Saxena, a systems engineer at Infosys in Hyderabad, decided to return to his hometown of Kashipur, Uttarakhand, after his company announced that its employees would work from home. The 24-year-old, who has not lived at home for six years, calls it “workcation” and says that “work-from-hometown” is a dream come true. “I’ve always wanted to travel but couldn’t because of work. But since October last year I’ve picked up on my passion and travel with a group of friends who also work from home to at least two destinations a month for seven to eight days, ”says Saxena, adding that he uses his laptop his job has been traveling and taking breaks from work so he doesn’t have to take vacation. So far he has visited Kedarnath, Tungnath (a Shiva temple in Rudraprayag), Gangotri, Yamunotri, Rishikesh, Madhyamaheshwar in the Garhwal Himalayas and Badrinath. Making the most of the fact that he lives in a hill station, Saxena is planning his next trip to Himachal Pradesh.
It was good on the labor front too. Saxena lives in a shared family of 10 and all of his cousins are in the IT industry so they’re easier to work with, he says, adding that they usually work in the same room unless someone is has a meeting. “I eat home-cooked food, travel wherever I want and spend time with the family. I want it to continue like this, ”he says.
Saxena is one of the many professionals who have left the chaos and hustle and bustle of the metropolis behind to start an easier life in smaller towns or hometowns while working from home. The trend of migration to cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad has been going on since the 1980s, with Gurugram being a later addition. After 2020, however, an increasing reverse trend will set in – from people migrating to big cities for work to them getting off the subway when work comes home.
Like Saxena, 29-year-old media professional Madhusree Goswami moved back to her hometown Darjeeling. Goswami, who had worked remotely in Bengaluru for a year, switched jobs in April and her family advised her to move back as her new job also had to work remotely. Most of her friends also work remotely from Darjeeling and it was good to catch up with them, she says, adding that work from home is like a paid vacation. “There are very few Covid cases in Darjeeling, so it’s good to be back. There is no madness here. I get home cooked food and my routine has started to settle down. In Bengaluru, I never woke up for a walk at 5:30 am, but now I do. When I was in school I could read almost an entire book in a day, but when I started working I could barely read two pages a month. That has changed since I started reading, ”says Goswami, adding that she would like to continue working from her hometown.
24-year-old systems engineer Shrey Pandey, who returned to Jaipur from Hyderabad last June, also hopes the trend towards remote working will continue as it means less spending and a simpler life. “I lived in an apartment with three people and we shared all of the housework. It was kind of manageable, but then you spend it on rent, groceries, electricity, etc. and everything you save at home, ”says Pandey, who lives in his parents’ house where he has his own room that doubles as Remote office.
In January of this year, the Union’s Ministry of Labor announced that it would include the “work from home” option in companies with 300 or more employees in the service sector as part of its draft permanent regulation. “Subject to the terms of appointment or agreements between employer and employee, the employer may allow an employee to work from home for the periods or periods specified by the employer,” says the bill. However, workers moving to other cities to work from home may face a pay cut, while workers who work from home without moving may face a change in compensation components. Flat rate transport costs can be replaced by WLAN costs, for example.
With remote working even recognized by the government, the trend is likely to accelerate and expand, but it remains to be seen how the wage adjustment will affect it in the future.
Mix it up together
Today there are three types of professionals: those who love to work from their hometown, those who don’t, and those who would love a hybrid model that goes ahead. The same applies to the student community. Deeksha Rathore, 26, a budding clinical psychologist studying MPhil at ICFAI University in Tripura, returned to her hometown of Dehradun in April this year after taking her first semester exams. Your daily routine is well established and distance learning works well too, but the challenge is that there are no physical hospital visits and patient interactions that reduce their education to just theory. “Psychologists in Tripura have started an initiative for teleconsultation for Covid patients, so we have to call 20-25 patients every day and advise them. However, since there is no face-to-face interaction, it takes time to build a relationship on the phone … patients don’t open up and are unwilling to share. Most patients say they are fine even if they are not and do not call back. It’s hard to get them to talk about their feelings on the phone, ”says Rathore, adding that counselors like her can only gain experience through physical sessions.
That being said, Rathore says she enjoyed her stay at home as she can eat home cooked food. “The northeast cuisine (in Tripura) was very new to me and I wasn’t used to it. I didn’t know a lot of people on campus either, so it feels good to be back, ”she shares.
Software developer Praful Parashar also prefers a hybrid working model. The 24-year-old has been working for a startup in Bengaluru since August 2019 and returned to his hometown of Agra in March of last year. Working from his hometown is a mixed experience as there are many distractions. “One day at 9pm I was in a virtual meeting and my family (parents and sister) were in the same room. They kept talking and if I had to speak during the meeting I had to leave the room because of the disturbance, ”says Parashar, adding that he can’t really blame his family because his meeting was outside of working hours. At first, working comfortably from the bed seemed like a luxury, but working like this for a year and a half made it monotonous, he says. “I miss the social interactions even though I’m more productive at home. I prefer a hybrid work model where you fly home on days off, ”says Parashar.
Obstacles & challenges
A 2020 study by the University of Utah titled Planning and Development Challenges in Western Gateway Communities sheds light on migration to smaller cities in the US and how it poses planning and development challenges for authorities. In India, the challenges are far greater, with Internet connectivity and power being the main issues.
Many who have returned to their hometowns are already facing the challenges. Saxena, who lives in a mountain station, agrees that sometimes there is no electricity for a day or two. This has happened three or four times since he moved. “But it’s manageable,” says Saxena, and adds: “However, I miss the weekend trips we had in Hyderabad. Since Uttarakhand is not that developed yet, we cannot do this here … and have to wait until everyone is free to plan a trip. Even so, I love working from my hometown as the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Goswami jokes that even though she works from her hometown, she hardly finds time to be with her parents. “I log in early in the morning and have 9-10pm off so I don’t have much time with my family … but I love to work from the comfort of my hometown,” she says.
One thing is clear: the way we work now will never be the same again. However, it remains to be seen how this trend of return migration will affect the coming years and what infrastructure and structural changes it will bring about for cities and companies.