The work-from-anywhere fantasy

Jobs site Indeed’s recent study in May 2021 says that searches for remote work skyrocketed by 966% year-on-year.

Microsoft’s 2021 work trend index indicates that three in four employees in India are seeking remote work options.

Avaya’s Life and Work Beyond 2020 study that was released in April 2021 and surveyed over 10,000 customers across countries including India says that 56% of employees would love to work from anywhere in the near future.

Work-from-anywhere (WFA) or remote working is the new buzzword around the world mainly owing to the pandemic. Where work-from-home (WFH) was once frowned upon as a perk/privilege that leads to poor productivity and work culture, it has been forced upon most industries (where feasible) as the only way to work given the complete impossibility of enabling offline work.

On paper, remote work sounds like a dream option for most employees. You could live in any city you like, perhaps a cheaper, tier-2 city from your own home state. And work for a tier-1 organization that earlier forced you to move to a metro city. It truly sounds like the best of both worlds.

Imagine the pitch an employer brand could offer in their careers page! The company would be able to invite the best people from across the world to work-from-anywhere. It would be a dream situation for the organization too, to be able to attract the best from anywhere in the globe to work for them!

But, despite all these glorious possibilities, very few companies seem to be taking WFA seriously.

The companies that were remote-first long before the pandemic, like Gitlab, continue to use that as a badge of honor.

And then there are companies like Stripe that started offering remote work as a perk, with a 10% pay cut and a bonus! Eventually, they now have ‘remote’ as one of the options under location in their jobs search page, for potential employees too!

A few organizations have taken to remote-first more recently as a result of the pandemic. But even for such organizations, geography is not yet history.

For instance, the Canada-headquartered Vidyard recently turned remote-first. Take a look at their careers page and all their openings are remote-enabled! But it’s not remote as in the whole world – it is remote within North America. I presume this is to take into consideration the operational constraints – country-mandated perks, benefits, salary in specific currencies, country-specific tax requirements (as per the headquarter’s location) among others.

Or take Allstate, the insurance company. The company’s careers page has separate search parameters for ‘Countrywide – in office’ and ‘Remote – home-based worker’.

LinkedIn too has a search parameter called ‘remote’, but the kind of jobs under that seem far from interesting.

But take a look at some of India’s leading IT companies. There is no mention of remote working or work-from-anywhere whatsoever. Even the job search pages don’t have an option to search jobs that are location agnostic/remote opportunities.

The Cognizant, TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCLs of India do not have any specific pitch around WFA. Even their job listings are still sorted by physical location of their many offices!

All this leads me to believe that this WFA is merely a fantasy and that most Indian employers are simply waiting for things to get back to ‘normal’ when they can usher in all employees back to physical offices. There may be some mild changes in terms of allowing these employees to work from home (not anywhere, but home in the same physical location/city) once or twice a week, but that’s about it.

Hence, WFH could possibly stay as a minor weekly/monthly perk (it used to be a once/twice a year perk earlier) but WFA seems to be a distant, impossible dream as far as I see.

Which, in turn, means that we are not going to see a redistribution of the population and wealth from the already crowded metros towards tier 1/2 cities of India that WFA actually promises to do in the long run.

But the stage is set and the opportunity exists for a clever and intelligent employer to become the front-runner of the WFA movement in India. To put WFA as the most attractive perk and benefit for joining that organization. In a way, the organization that takes this up first would be offering WFA literally as a joining bonus!

It is one thing to offer WFA as a benefit to existing employees, but it is something else to use it to attract potential employees. The former may be in practice right now sporadically/mostly due to the pandemic-induced change in behavior, but the latter is the true mark of WFA becoming a reality.

Because, when WFA is advertised as the way the organization works (like Gitlab), that’s truly when potential employees could consider medium-to-long-term plans of settling down in non-metros for a host of reasons: cost of living, the desire the move out of crowded cities, wanting to live closer to nature, a hobby/interest in agriculture/farming, among others.

That reminds me of Zoho, which was probably the most written-about company with regard to work-from-anywhere, and most of those write-ups and interviews with Shridhar Vembu were framed as work-from-village.

I could not find the careers/job openings page of Zoho, ironically – it is not listed either on Zoho or Zoho Corp pages (Zohocorp’s openings page has just one role listed – technical support engineer, with Chennai as the location). I’d have assumed that given the relentless coverage the company received last year and this year around work-from-anywhere, they would have already made it a central pitch in their careers page.

It is then understandable that according to a survey by jobs site Indeed (again, after this post’s opening paragraph!) in March 2021, 59% of employers surveyed were not in favor of remote working!

UPDATE: I did anticipate to know and learn about some smaller companies in India that use work-from-anywhere/remote-working confidently as a perk to attract potential employees. Here’s a start!

Springworks:

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