Expanding the frontiers of work | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 31, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 31, 2020

Expanding the frontiers of work

Home and work have been two separate realms ever since we stopped doing homework assigned from school. Since then, work is work, and home is for unpaid work!

The very concept of working from home has, at times, been confounding— a part of a culture alien to many, an otherworldly experience, but something not at all new. To some, it would not even constitute the definition of "work," per se. Work, for generations, has meant having a fixed mode, place and structure— clockwork regularity in offices full of tables and later computers, and of course colleagues, alongside the exchanges of smiles, fist-bumps, hi-fives, and all the hustling-bustling-grinding which goes in-between. But still, it is a tried and tested concept, in many parts of the world, especially in the creative fields. 

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which has quickly engulfed the entire world, the idea of working from home has suddenly become a necessity. It has forced many companies to rethink their policies and become more flexible.

Digitising the workplace

With the recent public health crisis, numerous companies in the country, and around the world, have shifted their day-to-day operations and activities to the confines of the homes of their employees. This has enabled them to create an entire digitised platform of getting messages across and delivering the services within the set period.

Abdullah Bakr, CEO of Jarvis Digital, a digital marketing and advertising agency, says, "Working from home comes with a set of challenges and perks at the same time, as we engage in automated delivery of the services and work in groups." A cohesive digitised workplace is set up with the use of the air table, a spreadsheet-database cloud-based app, which tracks the progress of the work designated to the members, alongside the regular check-in, instant notifications, and checkouts. 

"We start the day with the daily video conferencing using Google Hangouts to get people in the mood for work, helping to enable a virtual connectivity, through which, employees will feel like they are working in unison," remarked Abdullah, who took a couple of test trials of remote working with certain segments of the office when the initial news broke about the virus.

What is more fascinating, is the multitude of apps that have become accessible to the wider public in light of the recent events, making it easier to actually execute a home-working environment digitally conjoined to the office space. Google and Microsoft have extended their support by granting free access of Hangouts Meet, and Microsoft Teams as the coverage and scope of the meetings increase. Slack, Flock, Zoom, and Toggle are tools employed for collaborative purposes, with messaging, video conferencing, basic time tracking, and chat options available.

With the basics of a proper Wi-Fi connections set in place, and a functioning PC or laptop, one can easily set up their workstation.

Expanding the scope

Working from home is no longer relegated to the freelancers and has encompassed a multitude of professionals, allowing the shifting of duties and shuffling of working strategies.

Md Saiful Islam, a lecturer of Computer Science and Engineering from BRAC University, says that doing classes from home is a challenge for teachers and students alike.

"This is a completely new experience for me, with live sessions taken over the Internet with discussion forums, videos, tutorials, and assignments, all of which take place with clockwork precision in line with pre-set class schedules," he remarked.

Universities have employed a wide variety of options to bring teaching into an online space with the help of specific learning management systems, opening up windows for online discussions as well as options to submit assignments, quizzes, and exams.

Shahriyer Shuvo, the head product designer at Gaze, an artificial intelligence start-up, says that working from home allows a balanced approach to work, as remote guidelines can be set in consultation with the management team paving the way for better time management and resource allocation from his part. Being a student, it also helps him to arrange flexible working hours and make space for both his studies and the job.

Working from home can be chaotic and blissful at the same time. In the office, where there is constant physical monitoring, there is more space for both employers and employees to expand their scope of work by allowing different strategies of work and restructure the stratification of the work processes. Tools like Trello, and Tomates for iDevices allow for the navigation of the restructuring of role and duties with a focus-based approach on the overall management of the firm, with breaks and alarms set in between.

Not always a bed of roses

A recent graduate working as an operations analyst in an energy company finds the concept of working from home a daunting task, as there is the problem of communication permeating during times of decision making. The lack of hands-on approach at times makes it difficult to understand the workload. Real life meetings allow confidentiality and does not allow the overlapping of personal and professional worlds.

For a sizeable number of people, working from home brings a great number of challenges when it comes to proper and efficient networking due to fluctuations in Internet connectivity, alongside adjusting to the technological prowess of apps and devices. In such cases, having daily video calls becomes a hassle.

To create a more streamlined flow of work, certain firms have kept alternate days of work, allowing certain employees to work within the premises in a given timeslot, balancing the rate of the progress while at the same time, helping employees to relax into their positions. The system of responsibility sharing alternates between the employees.

The mental set-up of working from home without the presence of colleagues remains critical to carving a proper mental state, and thus many firms begin the day with an online meeting. The physical and mental preparation of working from home needs to be taken into stride to make sure the homely feel of a vacation does not become overwhelming and boundaries are set to deter any kind of discrepancies and disturbances when working. Communication becomes a hassle, particularly when engagement of groups come into question, with more intensive and extensive networking and planning needed to be put in place, perhaps even beforehand, given there is little to no chance of a physical face to face contact.

What was considered to an obscure rarity is now developing and pushing the frontier of work, enabling greater modes of thinking and engagement amongst employees and employers alike. It has also become a necessity for now.


Photo: LS Archive/Sazzad Ibne Sayed

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