Yesterday some of us  from the non profit sector met up briefly.  One of the issues that came up for discussion was the  problem of  having to drastically cut operational costs. Some organizations were cutting back on staff as a coping mechanism. Others were trying to move into smaller offices in not so reputable neighborhoods.

We were wondering why no one had thought about looking at the “work from home “ option for those people whose jobs did not involve public interface . After all corporates  were doing it these days. So why not non profits?

But you will be surprised to hear the resistance to this “work from home” idea – most of this coming from some very experienced and senior people in this sector.

Objection 1 “ Response time reduces if people work out of home”

Objection 2  “ If there is a need to meet people cannot make it”

Objection 3  ( this one takes the cake along with the bakery!) “ How are we sure that people are working for the complete 8 hours? They could be working only for 4-5 hours” !!!!!!

While objections 1 and 2 are very person specific in the sense that some people respond late wherever they are to any correspondence or pressing issue objection 3 was what astounded me! It brought out the poverty of understanding on the  person’s part.

It told me that many people think that being involved in some activity is what work is all about and not about completing it. There have been days when I have completed my planned work for the day by about lunch time but due to attitudes like this have had to hang on in office till 4.30PM when I receive comments on reports done and so I do a second draft which again takes about a couple of hours to get response and finally I leave the office at 6.30PM while my effective working time has been less than 5 hours!!!

I wonder along the way if this is a  male thing?  Since most men really are not expected to shoulder much responsibility or “do work” at home – they like to spend these hours away at work coming back home by 7PM or so feeling very pleased with themselves.

But it is another story for us women…!! Due to inefficient management of time at the work place we are unable to manage our time at home. I also realize that objection 3 is a reflection of  a systemic failure. If we have to keep employees completely engaged in “work” for  8 hours the entire chain has to function in a manner that work keeps coming in to all for the 8 hours.

Consider this – I have 3 important reports to complete – they need to be finalized by this evening. My daughter is down with the flu. So what do I do? I take off and after completing  my household work by 10AM sit next to her and hammer away at the key board completing reports 1 and 2 . At about 12 noon I take a break – coax my daughter to eat lunch, get her to eat a paracetamol and after doing the dishes go back to report 3 which is over by 4.30 PM. I then take her to the paediatrician and we are back home by 6 . I open my inbox to check if there are any comments on these “important reports”--- none!!!!!  I receive comments about 3 days later!!! So you see, it becomes crystal clear – in order to hide systemic inefficiencies we insist that people be physically present at the work place.

I would like to quote another example – this time from the days of yore when typists were employed in droves by organizations. There was this lady who was recruited by an office. She wanted to be given work to be taken home and completed but ofcourse asses like those I wrote about earlier were there even in those days. They insisted that she should be physically present. She had this condition that if for more than an hour she was without any typing work she would pack her things and leave for the day. Now the situation that arose was very interesting- she was  a very fast typist and a very good one in the sense that there would be no mistakes in the drafts. People were completely exhausted in keeping her engaged. They started blaming each other for the delays being caused ( remember the one hour gap deadline) and finally it became very clear that most of the people in that office were taking about double the time to do any task- it took a humble typist to make them realize that!

We are so caught up in activities that we fail to look at the deliverables. Sometimes I also think that if organizations were to seriously look at planning and evaluating against employee deliverables then there would be a lot of managers who would go out of jobs ! Most of often work allocation and setting deliverables are something that the management style in our country is just not geared for. We like to treat our employees like children- “Are you at your desk or are you standing in the corridor chatting with someone?” Well, nobody seems to realize that so long I and the person with whom I am chatting have completed our tasks for the day what is the harm? Or if chatting is a problem, then let us go home so we can do something more useful there.

My daughter’s physics text book defines work as Force x distance. While I would have earlier said that it is “task completion within a time line” after that meeting yesterday I feel it should be  “heat generated by the action of a person’s  backside on a chair”-  the more the heat generated more the work done!!!! A sure answer to the power situation in our city today if we can convert this heat energy to electrical energy!


  1. Oh tell me about this, Meera! Our HR used to come like some monitor and say "How long have you been drinking coffee? Why aren't you at your desk?" This was so insulting, especially when my core group was one of the most responsible and productive team on the floor! We did everything on time and with least, rather no mistakes!

    and yes, working efficiently never counted. Even if I finished my work at 4 30 pm I had to hang around till 6 pm... ok then i was not married, so it never made any difference. But I can now understand what you mean when u say u could do with that extra time at home.

  2. Dear Meera, again a post with good reasoning. People are more worried about the quantity of time rather than quality time we spend on our seats. Working from home will sure be cost effective, provided our bosses develop trust in subordinates!

  3. I agree in certain areas of work working from home is possible.Unless the work is quantifiable,it is not possible to assess hours spent.My own feeling is work done from home tend to drag for longer time because of distractions unlike office where one is more focused.Ofcourse there are few who may clock the time but do less.
    I cannot resist pointing out your propensity to see every issue thro gender prism for whatever reason.

  4. @ Parthasarathi it all depends on the individual. A person who takes long to complete something will take that much time even if s/he is at office. It is not the home that causes this. The gender came in because women are the ones who benefit from the work from home the most because we are experts in the "balancing act". I do agree that all tasks cannot be done from home. Many that involve public interface requires the need for an office. @ Nivedita in India it is always quantity that wins. Quality is somethign we dont care about. Purnima, you are right, sometimes certain departments might cease to exist if the work from home culture comes and I think bosses oppose this idea because it would be their jobs that would go first!

  5. So true Cloud 9, QUANTITY rather QUALITY... believing when one stays in the office for long hours, he or she had done much work..not knowing the person might had been on the internet all day long & began doing his /her work few hours to the closing time...we call this 'EYE SERVICE!'... like the story of the typist...really, situations make SOME people adapt this 'eye-service' approach like the first example you gave..waiting for over 3hours for a response after finishing for a long time! why hurry? it at my own pace..SOME might reason.,,an insightful post as usual.

  6. Wow An amazing post! You know I have no idea about the working sector but I like this post nevertheless. When you say bosses treat their kids like kids... I think it's bad just assign the work for the day and if it's completed the eployee should be free to go, infact the bosses should be happy that they have such efficient employees, they are completing the tasks before the deadline!!

  7. from home and flexi-timing facilities would have been beneficial to working mothers..

  8. If it can console you, attitudes towards working from home are negative not just in India and not only in non-profits. Though I feel that now our work pervades every aspect of our lives. Like even at home, back from work, I check if any new messages have come, before going to bed, once again and through facebook once again .. so actually this means working from home and office, both.

  9. Time maangerment is improtant
    and employer has hired for 8 hours so he has desire to see that everyone works for 8 hours which gives him pleasure.

  10. Thank you folks for your comments. @ Sunil Deepak you hit the nail on the head! Organizations do not count the hours that we spend after those 8 working hours at home - checking emails and responding to them at odd hours if necessary when there is a message from our overseas offices. @ SM time management is important both at home and office. The problem is most bosses consider as one of the jobs " supervising" what their team members do and to most of these people it means coming to their desks etc. As such this can be done virtually. People who dont work would not work even if they are in the office!!

  11. Bang on Meera.. There is a huge difference between 'effective work hour' and 'hours spend in office'. In reality the latter matters during evaluation. Sad but true.


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