The iconic Starbucks was originally conceived as the Third Place, a place away from home and work, which blends the best of both. Work From Home unfortunately is proving to be a confusing and damaging intersection that is uniting the fallacies of either institution. In my largely intuitive and mildly empirical view, it threatens to damage our fundamental socio-cultural equilibrium, most certainly in India.
In terms of work culture, it's necessary to recognise that we thrive on the warmth and chemistry of interactions unlike the loner Westerner. The office is thus a crucial social adhesive contributing significantly to our self-worth and happiness. Constant flesh and blood interactions with co-workers enhance affiliation to both organisation and task and become an important placebo for mental health. For many, offices are far more welcoming and modern spaces in comparison to home, thus being a source of positive escapism. Although it does seem that we are working harder as individuals in this videographic environment, I can surely wager that collective productivity is taking its toll. As are the valuable metrics of employee loyalty and job satisfaction in an era where this crucial twosome is already under the cosh.
In terms of home culture, it is valuable to acknowledge that we have always enjoyed the distance and distinction from office. A parallel social hierarchy persists to this day, untarnished by the stresses of the daily workplace. You may well argue that work calls were always 24/7 but do consider that to be a statistical aberration, affecting a far smaller segment. When the joint family system was prevalent, nobody was allowed to discuss work on the dining table and instead had to focus on hearth and happiness. When nuclear families evolved, shades of this statute overlapped and family time extending to late nights, not the stunted western timings, meant some serious parent-child bonding. Equally in a bizarre parallel narrative, the family does consider the go-to-work citizen as non-negotiable property when at home, bosses be damned. We must note that homes are very hard-earned spaces in our culture, not just as a physical but an emotional geography and that is being seriously tampered.
Whatâ€™s happening right now is a curiously sordid blend of the two, the defects of each racing to the inevitable forefront. We do not need to be ready for work anymore, so the crucial transition between the two stages is now redundant. In clothes that were strictly indoors, we are featuring in serious strategic conversations, shedding a notional yet valuable dimension of professionalism. Meal times and spaces are both blurred as the device table becomes the dining table and the paltry poha is surreptitiously polished over the weekly numbers. Bosses are taking full advantage of our captivity and ensuring that no hours are spare hours since there is no travel or meeting-related alibis any more. Children are getting frustrated as they are not accustomed to the parent in visible captivity and the partner when less exposed is unable to fathom this extreme detachment. Perceptions are being shattered as per one well-circulated anecdote regarding a wife discovering what a sadistic tyrant her mild mannered husband was in the workplace. This is no romantic Third Place like Starbucks, in fact it is rapidly becoming no place you wish to be.
If you read the reports of super-large organisations that are giving up office spaces and enforcing WFH, the future looks rather bleak. But brands can come to the rescue, at least partially. Every apartment block with an available public hall must convert them to Covid-resistant solo working spaces, so that the executives can be at work while strictly not at home. The extra workroom concept must become a part of property lingo with 3 BHK becoming 4 BHKO, the O most certainly the miniature office. Corporates must ensure a viral version of 9 to 5, which may well be 8 to 6 as travel times are excluded, but 6 must stop at 6 and lunchtimes must become bonus family times. I do envisage a WFH insurance product where marriages breaking up due to obtrusive proximity have an exit monetisation for both entities.
There will be exceptional opportunities for the gadget multiplicity segment as refrigerators, microwaves and electric kettles need the second version. While RTE foods must capitalise on this golden chance to assert significance as the lunchtime will also be a home meal and not a Sodexo Pass headache. Yoga gurus must devise exercise regimens that can be sincerely implemented while on a call, taking fullest advantage of the lower body invisibility and the treadmill can evolve into a foldable expression. The gifting fellows must lobby with corporates to institute a culture of chronic delight, whether it is a box of muffins or a gourmet scarf is a matter of detail. Importantly, psychologists to offer a selective compatibility solution, where the non-working spouse is conditioned to adjust to the Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stature of her husband, vice versa, is a feasible scenario.
You may wonder whether I am trivialising my starting premise but I insist that the truth is farthest from this notion. Our workplaces have been dismantled and our homes are confused and there are no solutions that are nigh as organisations are taking fullest advantage to enforce WFH as a cost-cutting scheme. What I wish to suggest is a gradual de-escalation of tensions quite like the China frontier and that is why brands must come to the party. As sensible and empathetic actors in a demanding environment that has no defensible precedence.
In sum, it must be said that both work and home have been dismantled by the dynamics of this Chinese virus. The solution lies in restoring the stature of both and that is certainly no trivial task.
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