Covid-19 and the shift to remote workingWith the spread of the coronavirus, many offices in Kathmandu too have started work-from-home provisions. But how productive is this new working culture?
As soon as Prachi Pandey got to work every day, she switched on her computer, noted down the things she had to complete for the day and sat for various meetings. But since last week, her routine has changed. Due to the high risk of Covid-19, her office has asked everyone to work from home.
“It feels odd to be working from home. But at times like these, I am grateful that I have been given the option to work from home,” says Pandey, who is the project coordinator at the South Asian Women Development Forum.
Pandey’s office isn’t the only organisation that has asked its employees to work from home. Many IT companies, along with NGOs and INGOs, following the spread of Covid-19, have asked their employees to work from home. International companies like Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, Amazon, etc, have, in the last few days, rolled out mandatory work-from-home policies. But working from home, for many Nepalis, is a new concept. And the introduction of such a culture has ensued varying degrees of productivity from employees—with some saying the concept has increased productivity, while others saying there has been a decrease in productivity.
Bajra Technologies Pvt Ltd, based in Kathmandu, on Monday decided to start remote working. For an IT company, they didn’t face much trouble. The company even let their employees take computers home so that they could work efficiently.
“As soon as the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, we started working out a plan on how we can make working from home possible,” says Nishant Karki, chief operating officer of Bajra Technologies. “We knew we had to do it, because we can’t wait for the government or our staff to ask us to do it.”
Karki says that while initially they had felt that they would be losing 50 percent efficiency, in the past week he says that they’ve only lost 5 - 10 percent efficiency. “We were really afraid that work would suffer, but to our surprise it really hasn’t,” says Karki.
But for some companies the main issue is the internet connectivity. The director of the Lalitpur—based Impetus Incorporation Pvt Ltd, Binit Shrestha, says that one of the main issues with working from home is internet speed.
“At work we have 100mbps dedicated internet connection. While at our employees' homes, they only have 20 that too it's shared. As we have to work with live data from the US, our efficiency does drop,” says Shrestha, who says they asked half their staff to work from home on Friday.
“We will regroup again on Monday and then will do 100 percent work from home from Tuesday.”
Both Karki and Shrestha say that their employees have welcomed the idea of working from home. “At times like these, everyone is scared that they will take the virus home to their loved ones. And everyone is positive about the new working arrangement,” says Shrestha.
For Manas Shrestha, who is a software engineer at Leapfrog Technology, it hasn’t been tough working from home at all. He says that Leapfrog has always had provisions for working from home.
“The company already had a culture for working from home. I find it easy and feel that I work better from home than I do at work,” says Manas.
Meetings are being conducted via platforms like Skype, Google Hangout, even Viber and WhatsApp are being used as a means to communicate with one another while at home.
INGOs like the International Labour Organisation have also started working from home. Like Leapfrog, the ILO also had provision for working from home, says Marina Rai, ILO Nepal’s operations officer.
“Earlier, people who worked in finance and other management positions had to come to work, but since 2018 that too has changed as we set an online system which has helped a lot at times like this,” says Rai.
While before people stayed at home for personal reasons, now they are staying home because it's the right thing to do, says Rai.
“It’s great that we get to stay at home because as schools are off, many parents don't have people to look after their kids. For those parents, working from home is a boon,” says Rai.
Another company that has started working from home provisions is Digital Gurkha, whose founder Ulekh Niraula says that for the safety of his employees they have decided to work from home.
“It was an impromptu decision to do this. We cannot take risks. Sure the productivity might decrease and the quality of work might also decrease but my staff feel that it should be done and so do I,” says Niraula.
But not all prefer working from home. Sabina, who asked only to be addressed by her first name, says she doesn’t like working from home. She says that her productivity decreases, as she also has to be involved in various house chores.
“I have to look after my in-laws, look after my kids and have to do various house chores,” says Sabina. “It’s like people think that working from home means I have a day off, but it isn’t. Sometimes I end up working till midnight because I get so distracted during the day.”