The Taboo Of Remote Working And Hiring In India
Companies might drumbeat about WFH, but many hiring managers still breathe an audible sigh when a WFH request lands on their desk
As fresh graduates looking for jobs, I remember my peers and I being wowed by the WFH (work from home) concept. We were all looking for a Google-style workplace which didn't mind us taking naps while on the clock, or coding from a place that wasn't "office'.
A decade later, I see how WFH (and with the pandemic; work-from-anywhere) has become a reluctant norm across India. Companies might display it in bold type on their EVPs, but many hiring managers still breathe an audible sigh when a WFH request lands on their desk.
It doesn't stop there, however. Ask managers in India if they would be comfortable with hiring reportees in a different geography, and a litany of ifs and buts will ensue. I have a few thoughts as to why that might be.
The inherent babu-ism of Indian work culture
As antiquated as it might feel, we did inherit from our British overlords a culture where productivity was synonymous with physical presence at the workplace. The "ji huzoor' system of our past has ingrained itself as an unconscious bias, manifesting as a deep distrust of any person who says they are not "coming in today'.
Modern workplaces have broken out of this shackle, but perhaps not as completely as needed. If the biggest reason your company isn't fully remote is because the managers are used to being kowtowed to and sought for approval, then you need to begin with breaking age-old biases and toxic patterns before you think of processes.
Hierarchy instead of democracy
Trust is a precious quid-pro-quo in any workplace. Of course with our Slacks and our Zoom meets it's become easier to keep that trust alive, but there are quite a few of us still stuck in the traditional box where out-of-sight is literally out-of-the-appraisal-books.
With trust comes a behaviour shift from "instruction setting' to "intent setting'. When a manager sets goals and intents for their team instead of how-tos, they put the power back in the hands of the employees, not something many managers in India are yet comfortable doing.
Infrastructure, connectivity and connection
Barring some of India's major cities, good Internet connectivity is still the stuff of dreams. Fighting bugs while your strongest warrior is out cold due to poor connectivity is every CTO's worst nightmare. It's just not about dire circumstances though; many young developers live in shared accommodations without a personal space to focus on work.
Remote work can succeed only with the implicit understanding that work time at home is as focused as work time in the office. In addition to poor Internet, the lack of facilities such as a good work desk, and a well-lit room also hamper productivity. One of the prime reasons why developers are aching to come back to office is because coding while in bed and in your PJs has an early expiry date.
Then there's connection. Indian workplaces have traditionally depended more on verbal communication than written documentation. We'd rather walk up to someone and provide feedback than write it up in precise points in an email. With remote work, both developers and managers need to adopt a different cadence of verbal and written communication that is direct and constructive.
A predilection for resumes over skills
As I said before, remote working requires a trust-based democratic process to succeed. That trust can only be fostered when you know your teammates are skilled enough to swim every single time they're thrown in the deep.
For long, we in India have hired based on the "right' labels and credentials. We bring candidates onboard because they seem to be the right fit, and then we say to ourselves, "Let's see how they fare in real life." Why not hire people who are the right fit for your real-life needs from the get go, and give them the freedom to choose where they want to work from?
With the right team of skilled developers, making the necessary process changes to facilitate remote work also becomes easier.
All said and done, remote work isn't really that hard
WFH or WFA, the abbreviations don't matter as much as the people using them do. With the right set of people-centric processes and behaviours, Indian workplaces can go beyond this taboo to create a truly flexible, and productive, remote working model.