flex work

Home is where the work is

Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer may think working from home hampers productivity, but those lucky enough to be able to do it in India say they have the best of two worlds, says Varuna Verma.

Priya Rao took a six-month break from work when she had her baby last year. The Information Technology (IT) professional had thought that it would give her sufficient time to bond with the child and help her regain her strength before getting back to work. But when her maternity leave was drawing to an end, Rao realised that she couldn’t leave her infant son at home in the care of a nanny for the whole day. “But I did not want to give up working either,” says Rao, a software architect at a Bangalore-based software company.

That is when Rao approached her company’s HR team to figure a way out. And she found them willing to make adjustments. “For the next one year, I worked half days and put my son in the crèche on the office campus. This way, I could check on him between meetings and conference calls,” Rao says.

With the growing number of women in the workforce, the practice of flexi-hours (which particularly helps women mind both their jobs and homes) is slowly catching on in India. Not surprisingly, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to annul a company policy that allowed employees to work from home has triggered a debate on the pros and cons of the practice.

Hundreds of women in India would disagree with Mayer. “Flexible work routines are a growing trend in India,” says Sairee Chahal, founder, Fleximoms, a portal that connects women to companies offering flexi-work job options — such as work from home or doing suitable hours. “Workflex is gaining currency because of better access to technology, a lack of traditional care giving and the rise in double income households,” she explains.

Launched in 2009, Fleximoms claims to have a community of 1,00,000 virtual women members, of whom 5,000 have found suitable flexi-jobs. Its corporate clients include Honeywell, Intel, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Castrol.

Many companies have been encouraging employees to adopt flexi-time. PricewaterhouseCoopers India has several options on offer. Telecommuting is an option where employees working in their local office may sometimes work one day a week at home, while Flexitime is an arrangement where an employee starts and ends the workday outside the “normal” working hours.

“Individuals continue to work the standard 40-hour work week, and receive full-time income and benefits,” says Mark Driscoll, leader, human capital, PwC India.

Those in favour of working from home argue that the practice gives employees, especially women, the opportunity to work and look after the family. Studies have shown that this jacks up productivity, makes employees happy and leads to lower attrition rates. And, of course, it cuts a company’s infrastructure costs.

“At PwC we believe that flexible working arrangements are alternatives that assist employees in balancing work and personal commitments while meeting business needs and objectives,” Driscoll stresses.

Sangeeta Lala, senior vice-president and co-founder, Teamlease Services, a Bangalore-based staffing firm, believes that women professionals in India don’t seek work from home options on a priority basis. “Flexi-work ranks below job role, salary, proximity to home, work load and bonus on the checklist,” she adds.

Those who don’t believe in flexi-hours hold that they hamper employees from performing to capacity, take away the opportunity to network or exchange ideas or scale up the career ladder. Bosses are often left wondering whether the employee is taking a power nap or picking her children from school during work hours. “The practice only works in jobs where there is a clear output requirement,” Lala says.

But those who are in favour say that it gives women the opportunity to work professionally, as well as take care of domestic and familial needs. “I work so much better from home,” says a media group employee who often edits from home. “At home, the telephones don’t ring constantly, visitors don’t keep streaming in and colleagues don’t tempt you with coffee and gossip,” she says.

Many organisations encourage women to work from home to retain staff. Chennai-based consulting firm Avtar Career Creators (ACC) conducted a survey in 2005 which found that 18 per cent of all attrition in Indian industry was caused by women who stepped off the career track, never to return. “This totalled around 50,000 women quitting their careers every year in the major metros,” says Saundarya Rajesh, founder, ACC, which specialises in providing flexible work choices to career women.

Started in 2000, ACC has a network of 26,000 professionally qualified women. In the last five years, the company claims to have created second career and flexi-working opportunities for 3,500 women. Its clients include Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo, Unilever, Heinz, Standard Chartered Bank, Google, Microsoft and Cadbury Kraft.

The Tata Second Career Internship Programme, started in 2008, also helps women who want to return to a career after a break by offering them flexible work schedules to help ease the transition process.

“There is a great deal of emphasis on flexibility as well as relevance of business projects,” says Amit Chincholikar, vice-president, management development, Tata Group HR, Mumbai. “Technology that enables telecommuting (or working from home) provides participants the flexibility so that they can balance their personal situations as well as deliver on deadlines,” he says.

Rajesh, however, feels the Indian corporate sector still has some navel gazing to do on diversity and inclusion at the workplace. “The investment made in empowering women goes waste as they often do not get the right work choices or the infrastructure to manage home responsibilities along with a career,” she says.

But it may not be long before India Inc embraces the practice of working from home or flexi-hours. For one, it’s slowly catching on everywhere. Polling firm Ipsos found that in a survey published recently almost a fifth of over 11,000 workers from 24 countries surveyed said they telecommuted “frequently”, while 7 per cent said they worked from home every day.

Another study — this one by Stanford University and the University of Beijing — found that telecommuters at a call centre in China handled calls more efficiently, took fewer breaks and were 13 per cent more productive than those who worked from office.

On the other hand, American retailers J.C. Penney found last year that a third of its headquarters’ bandwidth was taken up by employees watching YouTube in office!

This was originally published in The Telegraph

What does Yahoo’s work from home ban mean for Indian cos

Soon after internet giant Yahoo took away employee freedom to work from home, Indian companies are slowly voicing hitherto unexpressed concerns about productivity losses such flexibility may cause. “Flexitime is a utopian concept that is not going to help anyone,” says K Ramkumar, Executive Director, ICICI Bank.

“Whatever is not natural to the market and commerce, will not work. Customer is the king.” India Inc has mostly celebrated work from home or remote work as a best practice to attract and retain talent. Hardly anyone has yet voiced concerns of productivity losses such practices may cause.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” a Yahoo memo announcing the rollback observed. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” it added.

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Some HR heads of companies that have given employees such flexibility are now beginning to echo Yahoo’s concerns. None of them have yet moved to curb the practice, nor have they given any indication that they may consider such a move. “In India, unlike the west, employees do not have a separate office space in their homes. In that way, productivity could get hampered if one works from home,” says Saurabh Govil, vice-president HR, Wipro.The company offers flexi-work on a case-to-case basis. In the US though, Wipro has been asking its people to come to office, especially those who do not have to stay at customer’s site. “Coming to office helps in developing a culture that is crucial; even small water cooler conversations are important,” Govil adds. Srimathi Shivashankar, AVP & Head – Diversity & Sustainability, HCL Technologies, says working out of home in India is quite challenging.

“If you ask me whether Indian homes give women/men this kind of work ambience then my answer is no,” she says. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, extended family members have very little understanding that working from home is equivalent to working at office and that the individual should be supported to stay productive.

Secondly, the household support staff do take holidays, leaving the individual working from home with household chores. Thirdly, when it comes to telecommunication/calls/online meetings, Indian households with noisy surroundings have a good distance to traverse vis-a-vis our western counterparts. Fourthly, network connectivity and security is still an issue in many cities. Lastly, power cuts across Indian states also act as a dampener on productivity. HCL Technologies introduced flexiwork options one-and-a-half year ago despite these challenges. Unlike 5-6 years ago, when such flexibility first found its way into Indian workplaces, the pressures of the recent economic slowdown may also be forcing companies to reconsider their assumptions.

“Now companies have other concerns like top line and bottom line. They are insisting on ownership and accountability from their employees,” says Saundarya Rajesh, founder president, AVTAR Career Creators & FLEXI Careers India. Mahindra & Mahindra, which employs 150,000 employees, says such flexibility works only when there is a structure around it. It works only where one can measure productivity and performance, says Prince Augustin, EVP – Group Human Capital & Leadership Development at Mahindra & Mahindra.

The Economic Times published the article here

Managing An IT Career Transition

Tips for managing a career transition (especially for IT professionals, but also relevant to others):

Assess your strengths. While this is easier said than done, working on this objectively may pave the way for a long term roadmap for you.

Don’t shortsell. Never begin a career conversation that begins with “I will do anything.”

Assess your skills and competencies. Imagine if you were to redefine your CV by telling the other person what skills you have or more simply put what you can do – rather than your designation and programming platform you work on. Feel free to use professional assessment tools to view this in relation to the job market.

Interest areas Are you a programmer with a gift of the gab or way with words? You love Bollywood and are known for getting projects with multiple stakeholders done on time? If you have specific interest areas, things that excite you or you haven’t let go of – these might be your clues to your next career. At Fleximoms, we have alumni who have gone from being project managers to culinary divas, from being IT Analysts to Tech PR pros, from being internal programmer to specialised consultants. What binds them is a conscious decision to reshape their careers and lives and ability to take help where it exists.

Network. Where are your networks? Do they know you exist? Are you valuable? Are you seen and heard often? An average man is more likely to know people in his domain than an average woman – alumni networks, colleagues, geek communities, start ups, tech events, clients – people work with people they know everywhere.

Coaching and mentorshipUndervalued propositions, especially in the context of women making career transitions. A good coach can be the bridge between your aspirations and your reality. A great mentor can be the support system you never imagined you had. Behind every success – big or small there is an objective brain and a committed heart of a mentor pinning for you. Don’t let that go waste!

Things are changing, especially with the emerging opportunities and availability of new terms of engagement and there are women who are transiting and not leaving this industry.

An encouraging sign after all!

 

This post was published in Women’s web

How To Make Flexi-working Succeed

Work from home options or flexible working hours – working women in India are benefiting from the career possibilities offered by companies

Pallavi Mathur Lal, mother of two and Associate Director, Qualitative at Synovate India Pvt. Ltd returned to work 2 ½ years ago. A flexi-working arrangement helps her fulfil her need to work and also take care of her kids. The flexible working hours enable her to manage both house and work without feeling guilty about letting either side down – on one hand, and getting a kick out of both, on the other. Pallavi heads a team and her responsibilities include handling research projects, client services and business development.

Although she has a flexi-time job, her responsibilities are no less than a person working full time at the same level in the organization. She is part of the Senior Management and involved in all business aspects across Synovate. Her flexible working hours arrangement is such that she is required to bill a total number of hours in a month. She does not have any fixed number of hours or days that she has to work in the month. She also has the freedom of managing her work from home in case a need arises on her personal front. She intends to continue this arrangement for as long as she can.

The fact remains that it is still very much women who shoulder most responsibilities at home – whether children or elderly people. Keen to retain talented employees, companies are now more open to employing women who want to work flexi-time. In December 2009, Regus, a company in the field of workspaces, found in its survey (called ‘Flexible working mums’) that 64% of Indian business leaders were keen to hire more mothers on a flexi time basis.

Part time work, work from home & other ‘flex’ formats

Flexi-working is usually an arrangement between the company and the employee to work for x numbers of hours in a certain period. This arrangement could involve a person going into work each day for the specific period or in some cases, work from home options. It could mean part time work such as working for a fixed numbers of hours per week or flexible working options such as working for only a few days a week. Such arrangements vary from one company to another and often vary for different employees even in the same company, depending on individual needs.

Companies however do expect flexi-working employees to stay back or come into work on an unscheduled day, if the need arises. In other words, Flexibility is a two way street. Industries where flexible working hours could work well include knowledge based industries, software companies, non television media, publishing, recruitment and marketing firms.

Sairee Chahal, Co-founder, Fleximoms, a portal that connects women to employers willing to offer flexible working hours, feels that with advancements in technology, remote working is now more possible than earlier. It is necessary, she feels that employees have a thorough understanding of the job and the deliverables expected. Chahal says, “Flexible work is not freelance work. The same rules apply, even if you are working from home.” What is important is the commitment one brings to the job.

Flexible work is not freelance work. The same rules apply, even if you are working from home. 

As far as salaries are concerned, flexibility by itself need not mean lower pay. The salary structure usually depends on the nature and delivery of work for most white collar jobs. There are times however, when pay cuts may happen, for e.g. if the quantity of deliverables is substantially lowered.

A flexi-working career for women: Dos and Don’ts

Lumiere Business Solutions Pvt. Ltd., in Mumbai was founded almost 14 years ago and the company’s target community is women professionals who want to return to work after taking a break. Deepa Soman, MD of Lumiere states that the actual premises seat only 25 people. People have the option of working from home while others come in to work at the office. There are regular meetings however, at the office, where everyone has to be present – even those who work from home.

She says, “It is essential for a company to have a back up plan in place in order for flexi-working to be viable. It is necessary for communication systems and processes to be very strong”. According to Soman, the fact that this company has 300 deliverables a year and has never missed a deadline is testament enough to this.

Lumiere has a Pool Manager responsible for tracking employees’ work and their deliverables. On joining, employees are made aware of the company’s expectations in terms of commitment and that at times, they would have to go the extra mile. All employees have Blackberrys and laptops, enabling a smooth flow of communication between them and the Pool Manager.

On joining, employees are made aware of the company’s expectations in terms of commitment and that at times, they would have to go the extra mile. All employees have Blackberrys and laptops, enabling a smooth flow of communication between them and the Pool Manager.

Making Flexi-working work

Lumiere also has an intranet where employees can track the work. The system is very transparent and information is available at the click of a button. There is a regular feedback and monitoring system for each employee. Soman feels that “A flexible employee must show responsibility, personal leadership and integrity.”

Neville Postwalla, Director, People Functions at MindTree, Pune, says that the company has ladies who are working on a flexi-time basis. However, this depends on the person and the circumstances for the flexi-time. The workload and the salary is adjusted accordingly for such employees. He feels that such flexi-time jobs would work for technical and staff employees where it is feasible and practical to do so.

Flexi-working is still a relatively new concept in India and unfortunately, some managers perceive those seeking flexible hours as not ambitious or committed enough. Not all companies have an evaluation system evolved enough to measure the quality of deliverables rather than the face time or number of hours put in at the desk.

Although it is taking time, more companies are realizing that flexible working hours does not mean a lack of commitment. By helping employees get the best of both worlds, instead, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement and one that can work – with a little effort from both sides.

This was published in Women’s Web