work flex

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

Meet the back-to-work moms!

Founders Sairee Chahal and Anita Vasudeva describe their company Fleximoms as ‘India’s first workflex readiness specialist’.

In lay (wo)man’s terms, what they offer is a second chance for women looking to re-enter the workplace, and a vast, under-used talent pool for corporates to tap into! Fleximoms does this through a host of solutions, like job boards that connect employers with prospective employees, and ‘readiness’ workshops and advisory services for women.  Founded in 2009, the company had partnered with over 200 corporates and reached out to 1 lakh women, with a presence in 25 cities by August last year. (Source: CNBC TV18).

“We used to run a management consulting firm and because we were a women heavy, workflex ready team, we would get resumes from other women who wanted to join us. We obviously couldn’t hire most of them for our needs,” says Sairee. That’s when Chahal, along with her associate, Anita, decided to start Fleximoms.  “The first lot of resumes uploaded on the portal were from our inboxes!” she says.  Over a period of time, they realised they could offer far more than just job boards and devised a host of programs that prepare women to find jobs and careers that suit them – second time around.

Fleximoms’ programs, like ‘2nd Chance Back-to-Work‘, are  scheduled across multiple cities and offer women not just training but also a chance to connect with others like them.  The program, according to the company’s website, “helps you achieve Balance, align your Approach, assess Realities, and finally make Appropriate Choices to take your next steps in reaching your professional and personal Goals. “

Others are tailored to help fulfill specific aspirations, like Seal the Deal and Setting up Shop, for building a sales career and becoming an entrepreneur respectively.
One-to-one advisory services are also popular.

Do they work?
We talk to two women who’ve used their services and discover what they gained.

Anu Singh Choudhary
Fleximoms Career Advisory alumna, Delhi.

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Anu Singh and her twins.

I started working when I was 21. I had a very active life. I used to work well into the night, often clocking in 20 hours at a stretch. My last job was with a news organization, and you can imagine what the newsroom set-up must have been like. It was a big change, when I got pregnant and faced medical complications that hit the brakes on my professional growth. This was 5 years ago. During this time, I would take up the odd project that came my way, without striving for any particular assignment or planning my work.

But I don’t regret taking the break. Spending time to have and bring up your kids is important too. But when they began to go to school, I realised that I had to be more productive. I was working, but in a very unstructured manner. I heard about Fleximoms through a friend and started following them on Facebook. I even went for a couple of informal meetings and became friends with a few women who were part of the network. In many ways, that was a reward in itself.  I come from a family, where none of the women from the previous generations have worked.  So, I have no role models or access to experienced women who’ve been in this position before. I could always talk to my husband, but I knew his advice wouldn’t be entirely objective.

A few months later, I decided to sign up for their career advisory services. I sort of  knew what I wanted. It’s just that I needed to sit down and talk about it to someone who would be objective and had experience in these matters. In fact, during my session, I was told that I didn’t need the counselling because I was asking all the right questions. But, I guess, it was good to have someone to sit and talk to. There hasn’t been a huge change in my career trajectory or anything, but I am trying to imbibe some of the more tangible tips, like not cluttering my schedule with too much work, being realistic about how much I can handle and so on.

Am I a happier, more hopeful ‘fleximom’ today? I guess, you could say so.

 

Saumya Dahake
2nd Chance Back-to-Work alumna, Pune  

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Saumya with her daughter Swara

I have had a very emotional journey with Fleximoms. When I first heard of them, I was the mother of a 2 month-old daughter, and I didn’t want to go back to the same ‘back office’ job I had. You can understand the kind of trauma I was going through. A first-time mom, with sleepless nights and a crying baby, trying to figure out her career! My maternity leave was running out and I was feeling extremely uncertain. That’s when I signed up for ‘2nd Chance Back-to-Work’ and also the Career Advisory program. I was desperately hoping they would say, ‘just quit your job’. But, thankfully, they were more honest. I realised that running away from a difficult situation was not the solution. Also, I realised it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of ‘I am a care giver and I also hate my job, so let me just give up.’

So I stuck on with my job and continue to retain the position I had before my pregnancy.  My daughter is now 13 months old. Fleximoms is not just a service for women who wish to work from home. In fact, it helps streamline your professional thinking, offers you a great network of people and guidance. I have made the most of it, I cannot tell you how many times I have called up Anita (Vasudeva)!  I have set goals, re-organised my priorities and have also been encouraged to pursue my other interests like writing. So, let’s see what happens.

 This article first appeared in Money Chat 

Mommy matters

Walk into any Mom&Me store, and you will find mothers. No, not just shopping. At work. The chain, run by Mahindra Retail, began by intuitively tapping into the “Mother knows best” philosophy, says CEO K. Venkataraman. “We do encourage more recruitment among mothers because they add value to our customers. We find their understanding is high, and though all our employees receive empathy training, obviously when you are a mother yourself, the empathy levels are naturally higher.” Labelled Supermoms (the store also recruits a few Superdads and Supergrandparents, just to be fair), the job profile involves hanging out at their stores and doing what a mom does best—counsel, advise, lend an ear, recommend solutions and listen to what a worried mother or mother-to-be has to say. “One of the greatest indicators of our success has been seeing the instant faith parents develop in us. I was at our first store in Koramangala, Bangalore, one day when a lady handed her infant over to a Supergrandad while needing to take out her cash. She said to him, “Here Dad, hold her for a while.” The Supergrandad was so touched because it is such a gesture of trust.”

A large percentage of women drop out of work in urban India alone, with an average work experience of four years and average education, a post-graduate degree, according to Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, a Delhi-based consultancy that helps mothers reconnect with the workspace. The mother of a four-year-old herself, Chahal says the channelling works both ways. “Not only do companies need to accept the flexi-culture, because a workplace is essentially gender-neutral, but women also need to invest in getting back to being professional. Work is work, and at the end of the day, it’s a business case study irrespective of gender.”

Companies like Johnson&Johnson (J&J) periodically recruit mothers for focus groups and in-depth interviews for feedback on their products. “We engage with mothers to understand their lives post motherhood and discover their emotions as mothers. Spending a day in the life of a mom helps us identify gaps, needs, product preferences and routines,” says Anil Nayak, director, communications, J&J. There are other companies also which have an eye out for mothers. Future Group gathered together housewives and mothers in Mumbai recently for feedback on their high-end food mall FoodLand, as also to understand consumption patterns on their indigenous brand of noodles.
Apart from focus groups, programmes like Tata Second Career Initiative Programme and the Godrej Revival of Opportunities for Women encourage mothers to return to work after childbirth, often offering workshops and training to allow them to rejoin fields like accounting, finance or human resources which they exited to tend to their children.
There is a definite increasing workplace momentum that recognizes mothers as responsible, mellowed, patient, capable of handling a team, working with values such as loyalty, commitment and integrity, say recruitment experts. Companies are beginning to put a numerical value to the loss of talent and the ability to regain it. Such recruitment stances are a far cry from the traditional practice of believing a woman’s career is over the minute she becomes pregnant. “IT companies are ahead of the rest in this. Infosys and IBM, in particular, are very open to what a mother brings to the table. If a mother is given a work-life balance, she is less likely to jump jobs in today’s hugely competitive environment for merely a raise, where other unknowns can throw her off gear,” says Aruna Sampat, director and founder of Career Catalysts, a Mumbai-based software specialist recruitment consultancy. Thanks to the widespread availability of technology like Skype and conference facilities, the mindset that one needs to be physically present to accomplish the job, is changing. “As long as the goals are clear and the delivery is prompt, the world can be your office,” Sampat explains. The burgeoning of Indian businesses has also meant that there is an acute shortage of experienced talent, and corporates are unwilling to waste hard-to-come-by experience.
At the end of the day, it’s about drawing on your strengths as a mother. At Mom&Me, sometimes, mothers with grown-up children, are seen as people best equipped to hand out advice—for everything from an earache to organic vitamin supplements safe for consumption during pregnancy. Sometimes, mothers with small children, who are only able to take on a part-time position, come in for a few hours a day. “We find mothers have the time to spend with customers and understand why they need guidance in practical terms. Mothers are very valuable to us because they perform a transfer of knowledge to a next generation of mothers who come in to shop,” says Venkataraman. One product the store plans to introduce after Supermoms gave them feedback is Indian wellness products. They’ve already started a line of stretch maternity wear based on their inputs. It’s not a short-term gain for Mahindra Retail either. They’re looking at it as a process where mothers “begin to own this space”.
Whaddya know, supermoms can do it all!

This piece originally appeared in Livemint

Making Flex Work For You

“Flex” careers are becoming popular world over, but the responsibility for creating them does not lie just with employers.

Whether it is taking care of babies, pets, homes or the elderly – worldwide, the majority of that responsibility lies with women, and more so in India. However, women also need to work, more than ever before – for various reasons – fulfillment, money, career, independence etc. Women are making more work-life choices and picking those that suit their individual needs.

A flexible career or a workflex role is one of the many choices that women make, one that allows them to find a match between their professional and personal roles. However, making flexible work – work for you – is an opportunity and a challenge. Opportunity because it allows one to find a good fit, challenge, because it needs one to consistently learn and unlearn.

 

Understanding flexible work schedules

Flexible work may be broadly defined as a work arrangement outside the 9-to-5 format, that allows a person to manage responsibilities in more than one place, in a manner most suitable to her needs. Some commonly used Flexible work formats include: Work-from-home, tele-commute, part-time office/non-office hours, project based, job-sharing, flex-day etc.

The whole philosophy of workflex is centered on delivery, quality and timely completion of work, as opposed to spending a certain amount of time in a physical space.

There are two main aspects – Conceptual and Practical – to considering a flexible work format and failure of flexible work often comes from collapse of one or more of these aspects.

Conceptualizing a move to flexible work

Assessing Workflex needs – One of the first and biggest concerns in a Flexible work format is understanding of one’s Workflex needs. It is also important to understand that asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. Meghna Khanna* used to be a high-flying senior consultant at a large firm. Once her son was born, she moved to a research desk role at the same firm with a half-day commitment. She still gets lucrative offers to join large consulting projects, but to her, time with her son is not negotiable and her flex career is built around that.

…asking for a flexible format is not a reflection on one’s performance but an indication of changing choices one needs to make and managing them effectively. 

Managing Workflex Readiness – Each kind of workflex arrangement has its own implications and one needs to be prepared to manage that well. For example the context of a Small Office Home Office (SOHO) entrepreneur will be totally different from that of a tele-commute flex worker. One’s flexible work needs may evolve over time but workflex readiness helps one navigate those changes.

Before you consider “flexi”, some practical aspects to think about

Level of skill – Workflex is not built for low levels of proficiency and skill. It is imperative that the worker has a high level of competence in generic skills such as communication, analysis, use of technology and teamwork, besides a core specialization. If one is considering a workflex career, the first thing one needs to do is upgrade skills, enhance proficiency and gain expertise.

Stay Connected – ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the hardest challenge facing flex workers. As a flex worker, it helps to put in place a communication protocol. Daily calls, IMs, mails, shared docs – or periodic face time – all help enhance cohesiveness between teams. If teams feel there is a consistent virtual presence, a work environment conducive to flex takes shape much more effectively and smoothly.

Equipped to handle – Flex is built on the backbone of communication and remote working infrastructure. If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.

If Internet is the lifeline of your work, make it a point to invest in it. Not being able to work, because ‘my Internet is not working’ is akin to ‘Dog ate my homework’.

Managing expectations – Make sure you let everyone in your work sphere know about what they can expect. If you are expected to have a weekly review meeting, make sure that happens. If you are going to be unavailable, let that be known well in time. There are few things worse for a team than having a flex worker not deliver on time, but not escalating issues while in process is one of them.

Creating back-up – The best thing one can do to make a flex career work for you is to make it as sustainable as possible. Pooja Saxena*, Associate Consultant, Legal at a Digital Media firm has been working with a large corporate set-up on a flex basis. She is their go-to person for all their legal queries. For over 5 years, Pooja has made it a point to have a peer manage work, while she takes her annual trip to the UK. Not only has she created a back up for herself, she has found a perfect flex fit for her company and herself.

Careers for women – making it work

Invest in Workflex – Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. The idea of professional support and training for women in career-transition is hard to digest for many. It is a choice that one is making, because it will add a certain value to one’s life – (better balance, more time, money, greater opportunity or keep your skills alive). Don’t shy away from making that investment in yourself. It is unfair to expect companies to invest in flexibility at work, if those who need workflex options are ill-prepared.

It is also important to ramp-up one’s readiness in order make-up for time lost, if one has been on a career break. The changes in work environment, skills at work, growing level of solution-oriented approach and no recent proven success make it hard for someone who has been away from workplace to orchestrate a successful workflex career.

Being raised as a woman in India has its own nuances. Often we are conditioned not to make professional investments in ourselves. 

Think employer benefit – Flexible work is clearly a two-way street. It is vital to gauge the real scope and value of flexibility – both for employer and employee. In a lot of cases, a partial view of things or a ‘what is it in for me’ attitude without taking into account the context and suitability becomes a recipe for failure.

Play with formats, propose new ones – Flex is contextual. There are a host of best practices and policies but indigenous solutions are the way to go when proposing workflex for oneself. Think what works for you and the other party and feel free to propose it. When Rashmi moved houses to a sub-urban area, daily commute became a real hassle with more than 3 hours each day being spent on it. With her employers, she put together a solution, where she travels to work 3 days a week and works from home 2 days but with the same office hours. When an important project is being delivered, she makes it a point to keep up and be with the team. The arrangement proposed by her has lasted over 3 years and works for her company as well for her.

Deadlines are not flexible – The only thing not flexible in workflex are deadlines and if one keeps that in mind at all times, in all situations – there is no way that flex will not work for you.

One can adopt a flexible approach but it is imperative to stay committed to decisions and deadlines.

*Names changed to ensure privacy

This piece was originally 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

Rise of the Fleximoms

‘Balance’ is the new buzzword for career women who refuse to choose between work and children.

‘Balance’ is the new buzzword for career women who refuse to choose between work and children. They want to be around when their kids need them, and they also want meaningful careers. And now there’s finally some hope they can expect to have their cake and eat it too, as Indian companies, according to a new business survey, show an increasing readiness to recruit mothers on ‘flexitime’.

If you are on a call with Anika Parashar Puri, business head of services at Mahindra Retail, you’ll have to put up with the din of children screaming in the background. Her colleagues are by now quite used to her telling them to ‘stop crying’ and ‘get off the bed’ during an important discussion. “I work full-time from home and my kids are always around me,” says Puri unapologetically. Once, her four-year-old son Nirvann walked in with soiled hands while she was on a call with her boss. “Wash your hands,” ordered Puri, to which her boss curtly replied that his hands were already clean.

On the job, at home Puri isn’t willing to change any of this, not for the world. She refused to give up on the grind after she became a mother. “I am nothing without my kids, but I am also nothing without my work.” Today, she is responsible for everything, right from the fragrance that will greet her customers at Mom & Me, Mahindra’s chain of stores that sell baby products, to training child birth educators, and she does it all from a tiny cubicle she has built for herself at home. Working from home, however, does not make it easier, claims Puri. Her routine can leave a 9 to 5 professional panting. Apart from being at the beck and call of two children and stressful deadlines, there are constant interruptions to pay bills, change diapers and handle homework. Plus she is required to travel to another city at least once a month.

The first time she flew to Bangalore for a meeting she felt very guilty about leaving her kids alone, despite her husband staying back to take care of the kids. In fact, she cried all the way in her flight.

Thankfully, her children are growing up, and they now understand when mom is busy and leave her alone.

“I keep telling myself it can’t get worse than this. It will only get better.” These days Puri is busy with a new project — she regulary writes about her daily struggle on her blog she aptly calls, ‘The diary of a burnt out supermom’.

Working with a baby Rama Bishnoi, an advertising consultant, can identify with Puri. Bishnoi has been a stay-at-home professional for the last 15 years. She quit her 9 to 5 job for a simple reason — she enjoyed her son’s company way too much. “It wasn’t a tough choice. I couldn’t rely on nannies. I loved my work and I loved my son. I decided to give both my time,” says Bishnoi.

She took Sooraj everywhere — to client meetings, presentations and advertising pitches. Often Sooraj would be snoozing in her kangaroo pack while she was busy finalising a business deal. Her career never took a back seat and yet she was always around for her son.

Last month, Bishnoi took a trip with her son to Trivandrum to watch the solar eclipse. She still goes cycling with him every once in a while, and bird watching trails is a regular event on weekends. “I can do it only because I don’t have a job that ties me down. When I started consulting from home, it was a rare thing. But these days, with video conferences and everything done over the email, it is a lot easier.” No wonder mothers believe they can find that much sought-after work-life balance.changing work culture

Indeed “balance” is the new buzzword for newly-turned mothers. They don’t necessarily want to be on the “mommy track”. They are ambitious and want promotions and meaningful careers. But they don’t want to deal with the guilt of leaving their children alone either. The good news is that some companies are changing to keep them around.

In The Regus Business Tracker survey, 64 per cent of Indian business leaders said they will recruit more mothers on a flexible-time basis over the next 24 months. The finding indicates that Indian work culture is, overall, keen to help employees achieve a balance between work and family responsibilities.

Mothers have another reason to cheer as well. The last two years have seen the birth of three internet portals that seek to help women find employers who offer work that can be done either from home or on a flexible schedule.

“Gone are the days when productivity meant your workforce coming in the morning and sitting at their desks all day long. Plenty of well-qualified mothers will give you the same quality by working from home or on a flexible schedule. These are intelligent women who have taken a break to take care of their children. It does not mean they are incapable,” says Sairee Chahal, co-founder of Fleximoms, an online portal that connects women with employers who are looking to hire on a flexi-time basis. Soon enough, Chahal realised that simply setting up a portal wasn’t enough. “The unfortunate part is that after a five to six-year-long break, many of these women don’t have the confidence to get back to the professional sphere. There were women who called up Fleximoms to find out if resumes are written differently now, or if they should take a computer course to brush up on their skills,” says Chahal.

Making a comeback A flexible work schedule has been top of the working woman’s wish list the world over. Now it is finally becoming an option in India and women are making most of it. Take Sangeeta Navalkar’s example for instance.

Navalkar, an MBA, continued to work as a full-time marketing executive with a media company after she had her first son, Akash. She soon realised what she was missing out on. “I heard the mother of Akash’s classmate talking about how yoga at school was helping her child. And it struck me that I wasn’t even aware my son was doing yoga in school. I was stunned when I discovered that the classes had been going on for over a month.” When she asked Akash, then four, he innocently replied, “But you are just not there when I come home. And by the time you come back, I forget.” When Navalkar got pregnant with her second child, Amar, she decided to quit her job and do it right this time.

After taking a six-year-long break, and raising her two children, she decided it was time to get back to work. “The world had changed by then and I wasn’t confident of my skills,” she says.

That is when Navalkar applied for the Tata Second Careers Internship Programme, an initiative that trains women who have been out of the workforce for two years or more. The key requirement is that applicants are required to have at least four years of work experience and a graduation degree. The programme involves the women in a project with Tata Services, and also helps them hone their computer and presentation skills. “By the time they are done with the 6-month programme, they are confident enough to take on another job. In the first 15 days of advertising our initiative, we got over 5,000 applications. There are plenty of women who are waiting to come on board. They just need an opportunity,” says Hitesh Chugh, sourcing manager for Tata group HR.

Navalkar currently works on a flexible arrangement with Tata Services, where she is allowed to work from home on certain days and can return early on most days.

Ashutosh Navalkar, her husband, says his wife has changed after she started working. “She is happier and more confident after getting back to work. My wife took take care of the family for six years. Now it’s her turn to go after her career.” Overall, things have become better after his wife started working, says Navalkar. He had to share the PTA meetings and open houses with her. As a result, he got to know his sons better. “I consciously spend more time with my children. My younger son loves astronomy, so we take our telescope and organise a BNO (Boys Night Out) without the mom. It has helped us bond.”

Companies bat for moms Companies, too, are slowly realising the need to make work schedules flexible for their women professionals. Apart from Tata Services, big players like Godrej, Accenture, and Pepsico have also introduced flexible working programmes. GE introduced a programme called Restart, in 2008, which was implemented at their technology centre in Bangalore. It was aimed at attracting women technologists who had taken a break from their career for personal reasons.

Accenture India, went a step further. Their Maternity Returners Program helped ease new parents back into the workforce by providing career guidance, so that they could tap into ideal re-entry roles. Along with flexible timing for women, it has also tied up with creches to make life easier for the mothers.

“These programmes help us retain our employees for longer periods of time, and also increase productivity. It makes sense to bring back good performers who understand the company and have worked with us. The flexible work arrangement is not just applicable to mothers but also women who take a break to study, take care of elders or any other personal reasons,” says Prithvi Shergill, head, human resources, Accenture India.

Still a long way to go Chahal, however believes that it is too soon to celebrate. “Unlike in the West, organisations in India do not have creches for women within the office space. The concept of flexible work schedules is only beginning to catch on. It is still very difficult for women to stick to their jobs after pregnancy. It also means a pay cut — the women on flexible schedules don’t get paid as much as other employees do,” she says.

More than 90 per cent of companies in Germany and Sweden have women working on flexible timing. Rajesh AR, vice-president, TeamLease Services, a staffing company that provides human resource solutions, believes that we still have a long way to go. “Companies often set up these initiatives to earn goodwill. Women who are on flexible timing arrangement are not put on important projects. Larger projects need dedication and longer working hours,” he says.

But most women aren’t complaining. The only grouse is that while juggling work, family and children, their social life takes a backseat. “My friends are cross with me. I don’t meet them for months.” says Puri. “I tell them to hang on. I’ll probably catch up with them when I’m 60 and then we’ll all play bridge together.”

This was originally published in DNA