In a recent interview, Rajesh Gopinathan, the CEO of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s largest ITES (Information Technology and Enabled Services) company noted visible productivity gains that the company has seen since a large part of its workforce is now working from home due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Gopinathan says that the current business model is at least a couple of decades old and the Covid-19 crisis has sort of helped them leapfrog to the new business model. It is expected that TCS will continue to be employee-lite which means only 25% of the workforce will work from an office at any time.
TCS is likely to be hardly the only company that is thinking along these lines. A lot of IT and ITES organizations have hitherto continued to invest in office spaces because of two reasons - one, the notion that employees are not going to be productive if they are under the watchful eyes of their bosses, and two, client requirements that mandate secure processing of data which means a lot of ITES employees are not even provided laptops that they can carry home.
But with the world’s largest remote working experiment underway as you read this, employers and clients have been able to witness the pros (and certainly the cons) of letting employees to telecommute. By the time this pandemic blows over, we are going to see a lot many more organizations comfortable with the idea of letting employees log in from anywhere.
So what does this mean to you as the developer?
At the outset, it does seem like a good deal; except for of course the fact that you can’t hangout with your coworkers like you can in a real office. But there are some concerns here.
Lack of standardized collaboration tools: Every business is different in terms of the technology it uses and the kind of communication that happens. There is no universal toolset that can meet the demands of every team. Finding the right tools to improve productivity is high priority regardless of whether your team works from office or remotely.
Connectivity: In a physical office setup, the organization is responsible for the infrastructure. Internet doesn’t work? Your device is slow? Call your IT admin and get it fixed. This is not the case in a remote work setup. In some ways, the developer is going to be made accountable for tasks that are outside their control and areas of expertise.
Pay: So you don’t have to commute to work anymore? Doesn’t that save you a lot of time and money? Also, now with telecommuting in place, your organization has a larger pool of workers to go after to fill a role. All of this points to a possible reduction in pay for the average developer.
But hold on - a lot of employees have now been complaining that working remotely has meant coworkers have been intruding into their lunch and after-office hours with work calls. That means you are likely to be engaging longer on work stuff. Also, you may now be using your own device to work and using your home internet for work purposes. Doesn’t that mean you need to be paid higher than what you were used to?
The new work structure is still fluid. It is thus important to straighten these issues out before they become the new normal.
Establish a remote work toolkit: Every team must build a remote toolkit that works best for their specific kind of work. This should take into account organizational policies (many organizations today are advocating alternatives for Zoom because of recent security breaches), your tech stack, and also potential stakeholders involved in the discussion. For instance, some project management tools make it difficult to add anyone who does not have a company email ID from registering in a project. So if you are working with external freelancers, you may have to reconsider the use of these tools.
Establish strict boundaries between work and non-work hours: Coworkers tend to start respecting your boundaries less when you are working remotely. Calls start coming in while you are having lunch or out taking a stroll. Setting up strict working hours is only a temporary fix. This is because as organizations go increasingly remote, workers start spreading out to different geographies. There is no single time-zone you can adhere to. Besides, calling while you are at lunch is still not going to stop.
One way to fix this issue is by advocating the use of calendars at work. Taking a lunch break for fifteen minutes? Block your calendar. Taking your dog out for a walk? Block your calendar again. By establishing this protocol, you can make sure that work and personal life do not run into each other too often. In addition to this, calendars also boost productivity with the help of timely notifications, smart labeling of tasks based on priority and ensuring that you timebox each of your tasks so that your workflow is organized and as per plan.
Negotiating pay: Recession is already here and so this may not really be a good time to negotiate pay with your employer. However, when the economy bounces back, your remote work setup is going to still continue. At that point, your employer might try to renegotiate your pay - this is especially true for Silicon Valley developers who are paid insanely high salaries merely because of the cost of living in this part of the world.
While it is difficult to stop an employer from hiring someone from another part of the country or the world to fill in the gap, you must put forth the advantages of hiring you in your pitch. This includes proximity to the prevailing power-centres in the modern day tech startup scene, your real-world exposure to how tech startups work, and your own experience.
The near future is uncertain for more reasons than one. As a developer, what do you think? Are we heading to a job creators’ market or a job seekers’ one? Share your thoughts in the comments.