TNW, New Delhi, May 23: As the concept of Work From Home (WFH) is likely to stay in the post-covid-19 world, especially for those engaged in online jobs, I, with over 15 years––not days––experience of virtually quarantined life, am in a position to give a little bit of advice to the friends across the country, even outside, who are suddenly finding themselves locked up by circumstances.
Actually the origin of WFH can be traced to the pre-industrialisation era––and the practice is still going on––when workers, in many cases women, are engaged in bidi and agarbatti making, weaving, zari work etc. But in the post-lockdown days hardly anyone remembers them so far the latter’s involvement in WFH is concerned.
Crippled by a serious eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, I started losing my vision rather rapidly a decade and a half back, when I was still in early 40s, I was almost confined to the four walls of my rented flat––we kept changing after every few years because of several reasons.
Though over the years I managed to overcome the mid-life crisis and started relishing this new reality, the most significant aspect about WFH is the location of your home or flat. If you are living in big metropolitan cities there is certainly little problem. But if you are living in small towns or village or far-flung place with poor internet connectivity and frequent and prolong load-shedding then this concept is not going to work for long very successfully.
Besides, much depends on the nature of work you are engaged in. If you have to meet a certain deadline or work in fixed hours––for example taking online classes––then the sailing may not be so smooth as it is being made out by people living in big metros where everything is ship-shaped, and where WiFi facility is available in many places, for example Delhi .
I bought my personal computer on Jan 26, 1999 when I had been contributing reports for rediff.com from Patna. I got internet connection at my home on Feb 25, 2000 when Bihar was going through Assembly election.
No doubt the installation of internet made the task of reporting (for Asian Age then) much easier, sometimes problem of broadband link failure and prolong power-cut would come in way. It was on March 3, 2000 that Nitish Kumar became chief minister of Bihar for the first time, but he had to quit after on March 10 because the National Democratic Alliance he was leading failed to prove majority. As those were the early days of internet in India the connection was much slower and snapping of link was a common phenomenon.
I still remember as to how I had to wait for hours and finally send story at 9:00 PM just before the deadline was to expire for the newspaper I was working. Almost two decades later things are not so bad in metros and big cities and the laptop on which we work has much larger backup capacity of power. There are other means of sending reports or doing any work which has fixed timing or deadline.
I can recall as to how I almost picked up a quarrel when the cable wire linking my home was inadvertently disconnected by a technician who was decorating a marriage hall in the vicinity of my flat. The link could be restored a couple of days later and in this period I only cursed my luck.
But this problem persists in small places and far-flung areas of the country––or for that matter Jammu and Kashmir. Even today journalists going in field reporting in obscure places face this problem.
As my eyesight worsened by 2004-05 ––two years after I penned The Jewish Obsession, a book on Middle East politics––I had to completely give up field reporting and freelance contributions to the edit pages of newspapers and website became the bread and butter for me. I had to undergo different type of obstacles.
True, as a freelance contributor one does not have to work on a fixed deadline and can work till late hours too, this may not be the case with many others who are engaged in online jobs. Those engaged in auditing, editing, publishing work, teaching and other software related works may enjoy working from home. But they too have problems. For example, teaching involves a lot of practical works, especially in higher classes.
Though it is not fully appropriate to cite personal experience too much yet for the sake of explaining one has to go back on it repeatedly. As working from two-room flat in big city is luxury there are several in-built challenges associated with it. Though my wife and kids have somewhat got used to this new reality this may not be possible with many others who are under constant pressure of meeting deadline. If the flat is on the ground floor, like mine, you cannot avoid noise pollution. From vegetable vendors to kabadi-walas to beggars to blowing of horn by two-wheelers and other vehicles the problem is unending.
Today in the days of lockdown the overall environment may be much calmer and many of our friends may be enjoying the hospitality from the life-partner at the time of duty yet it is a fact that these are only honeymoon days. The overall air may soon become too noisy once the lockdown is lifted. Concentrating for serious work in such a situation may be much difficult. If those working online are young or even in the mid-life they may find it easier to overcome some of the snags in computer but this may not be the case with older ones, especially teachers who often lack the capability to take online classes. In one such instance the whole class went on with students unable to listen to a single word as the laptop on which the teacher was working was on mute.
However, the by-product of the online teaching is that the students do not disrupt classes.
There is no denying the fact that Work From Home saves time, money and energy spent in going to office yet one cannot do all the works from the bedroom, especially in the time of crisis. But the flip side is that sometimes one becomes lethargic and not very punctual while working from home.
Besides, there is every possibility of gaining weight which is not good for health. As offices have overall infrastructure it is not always very easy to create similar condition at home. Let us take the example of a fortnight long water-logging in Patna last monsoon. Strictly speaking it was not a flood, but just the outcome of heavy rain, yet it threw the life out of gear and many posh colonies went without electricity for a week.
The scope for online Work From Home is very limited yet there is room for expansion provided things are toned up across the country. There is still an overwhelming percentage of jobs which demands field work. Yet online work is proving very helpful to various professions, especially doctors, engaged in treating patients whether there is Corona Virus pandemic or not.
However, Work From Home certainly helps physically handicapped persons a lot. Once again I need to cite my own example. Since I cannot read the articles typed by myself I had to rely on Narrator and From Text to Speech and other such applications. Yet I, for the sake of cross-check, ask my wife or one of my sons to read the final copy before sending it.
I have certainly become a good-listener as many married males (as it is claimed).
(Soroor Ahmed is senior journalist based in Patna.)