Long Live the Office!

Long Live the Office!

6 Sep 2021
By - Dr. Anindita Dutta, HOD, Dept. of English, School of Humanities, Management and Social Sciences

The year 2020 would leave behind an indelible mark in the history of mankind for all the wrong reasons. The year commenced with the trauma of the COVID 19 pandemic looming large across nations. Innumerable people across the globe continue to lose their lives following the Corona virus attack. Medical advisories have been issued everywhere cautioning people of social distancing and avoidance of all forms of gatherings.

The COVID pandemic has changed human lives and priorities. Each day continues to be a struggle for the ‘survival of the fittest’ as people hide behind masks and protective equipment trying best to shield from an unseen enemy. Uncertain, about the threat lurking outside ‘staying home’ and ‘staying safe’ have become ‘buzz’ words now.

Organisations, firms and educational institutions had to be temporarily closed down due to complete or partial lock-down. The future continues to remain unplanned as office and academic calendars have gone completely haywire. For organizations big and small ‘working from home’ continues to remain the only alternative to prevent the spreading of the virus.

‘Work from home’ or working remotely sounded rather blissful before COVID 19. But in reality the picture was not as rosy as it seemed. Romi Sahani had just finished a virtual office meeting session on ‘Zoom’. It was one of the long series of client meetings and conferences that are now a part of her daily routine. She had hurriedly sat for a client meet putting on her half formal attire, a plain white shirt paired with striped pyjamas, her comfort wear at home. Staying in a small apartment with her family, she could hardly find place for office work due to the terrible space crunch. Soon after her office closed in March 2020, she had initially felt somewhat relieved thinking it would be easier to work from home and would save her the trouble of commuting daily to work in metros and cabs. Romi thought staying at home would mean managing home and office simultaneously. But the situation was quite different from what she had imagined. Romi began to feel the weariness and exhaustion weighing her down with each passing day. Her personal life was no less demanding than her professional life. She had to manage her home, take care of her kids and her household chores were relentless. The society where she lived had put restrictions on outsiders so her domestic help could not be allowed. She struggled single-handedly to cope with domestic pressures in addition to her work stress. The thin line of demarcation between work and life away from work was gradually becoming blurred for Romi and she was unable to strike a balance between her personal and professional life.

Romi Sahani’s story is not the only one of its kind. It is the story of an individual yet very universal. It touches the lives of many who have been experiencing similar situations for days altogether. Remote working had never been so tedious. Days pass into weeks and then into months, long hours are spent daily hunching over office laptops, with the target of completing work that must be accurate and productive. Sometimes it becomes difficult to focus on the work in hand sitting within the small confines of a bedroom or living room, with no opportunity of consulting a second person. The drudgery of working in isolation at times becomes nerve-racking, sometimes killing. For many the home environment is not always conducive to work with responsibilities and commitments awaiting individuals and the bickering and daily squabbles of personal lives that never cease to exist.

The pandemic has left offices around the world empty. The office which was once considered to be a place of confinement where one must remain chained for nine to ten hours a day now seemed to be a haven of respite. In fact the very idea of ‘working from home’ was not very long ago looked upon with suspicion by the higher management in most offices. The privileged few who would be permitted to do so would often raise eyebrows and be the cause of envy for the rest. The year 2020 witnessed a topsy-turvy world as the pandemic compelled firms worldwide to introduce ‘work from home’.

Yet for some global companies the very idea of ‘working from home’ is here to stay, economising a huge amount of company expenditure. There may be several other companies who would probably someday join the bandwagon. The fear of COVID 19, the continuous lock-down seems to have swallowed and gobbled up the workplace, the office. For those ‘Working from home’, have gradually come to miss their workplaces, their work spaces, office corridors, collaboration with colleagues, the meeting rooms, the daily chit-chats by the side of coffee machines, the lunch room conversations, the bonding, the differences and the camaraderie all so characteristic of an office.

And if ‘work from home’ continues there is probability of a down slide for physical offices that might not stay at all. This is probably because with a steady growth in productivity, some companies are in favour of doing away with the concept of an office thereby completely abandoning it. Facebook and Twitter have decided to continue with the practice of working from home forever. The urban geography with its huge and illuminated office buildings at prime business locations may just be a thing of the past. There is a lurking fear that offices might gradually pale into the shadows of time and become non-existent. Whether or not the ‘office’ would ‘survive’ or ‘die’ eventually only time will tell.

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