Dr. Rajesh K Pillania
Professor of Strategy, MDI, Gurgaon
Coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) also called 2019-nCov, 2019 Novel Coronavirus is impacting the world in an unprecedented way. It has put a break on the usual way of running the world. Instead of focusing on the negative impact of it, we need to look more at leveraging it as a godsend opportunity, though many of us are looking at as China-sent crisis.
Relook at COVID-19 as an Opportunity
Homo sapiens have survived on earth through many crisis situations, and this crisis should be taken as an opportunity. An opportunity to relook, unlearn and learn better ways to run our international organization, governments, industries, civil society originations, political organisations, religious organizations and educational institutes. This crisis should be used as a big life time opportunity to re-look at the way we run life, particularly work life on this earth.
Origin and evolution of work places
The current form of business organizations was mainly a result of manufacturing revolution resulting in creation of factories in 19th century and later it was more or less copied by service organizations as work place became symbol of prestige.
The origins of the modern office lie with large-scale organisations such as governments, trading companies and religious orders that required written records or documentation. Medieval monks, for example, worked in quiet spaces designed specifically for sedentary activities such as copying and studying manuscripts. As depicted in Botticelli’s St Augustine in His Cell, these early “workstations” comprised a desk, chair and storage shelves. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, increasingly specialized office designs – from the office towers of Chicago and New York to the post-war suburban corporate campuses – reinforced a distinction between work and home (BBC, 2017).
This was pushed and shaped by the first Industrial Revolution in 18th Century which craftsman mostly working from home were overtaken by big factories pushing the concept of office. This continued through 2nd and 3rd Industrial revolutions. The work from office concept was helped to a great extent by technological evolution over time making it more cost effective, organized and productive.
People of current generation are so used to it that we take it for granted as we have inherited this system. This system though has number of benefits; it also has lot of issues that we have realized over the years.
The huge negative effects of current way to work
Though this system has helped in number of ways,but it has also created number of problems such as movement of people to cities and congested cities; time wasted in traffic and traffic jams resulting into pollution; increasing health issues in cities due to vehicular pollution, both air and noise pollution; increasing cost for organizations also in terms of creating huge office spaces and maintaining them to name a few.
The wastage due to and cost of each of the above mentioned item runs in billions of dollors and large numbers of wasted days for countries. Due to space constraints, let’s look only at one of the item i.e. commuting for work. World over, people spend lot of time daily in commuting for work. According to data from the Move in Sync Time Travel Report the average Indian commuter in tier 1 cities spends between 48 and 56 minutes travelling one way to the office. On an average, Indians spend 7% of their day in commuting to office, averaging less than 3 minutes per kilo meter (Move in Sync, 2019). Data from around the world shows lower but equally problematic levels of time spent commuting – Europe an average of 39 minutes per day (Euro found, 2019), USA 26.6 minutes (Unites States Census Bureau Community Survey 2019), Beijing 52 minutes (Statistica, 2015). These long commutes are costing countries in billions of dollars every year. Long commutes are costing UK businesses an estimated £5.3bn a year in lost productivity (Corporate advisor, 2019).Besides monetary impacts, extended time spent in office commutes interferes with work life balance, impacts health, creates congestion and damages environment with air and noise pollution.
Redesigning our way to work
This should be taken as an opportunity to re-look at how we are running our work places i.e. international organization, governments, industries, civil society originations, political organisations, religious organisations and learning places i.e. educational institutes.
A lot of work can be done online using various tools such as video platforms. The current available and emerging technologies can be harnessed to the hilt for making digital easy, convenient and cost effective.
Harnessing the power of working from home
By thoroughly relooking at each of these organization, we can reduce the need for everyone to be in organization premises every day. As we have realized during the current lock-down, there are huge advantages of working from home.
Finding the right home-office combination
The upper two ways can result in lot of savings for organizations and also result in reducing the negative impact of daily travels, traffic jams, traffic pollution on health and environment. However, we need to also look at maintaining certain offices as offices has its own positive impacts too. Different organizations need to study it in detail and find out the right home-office combination for them as it cannot be one solution for everyone.
Though we already knew the huge negative impacts of the current system of working from office, we ignored to re-organise it. We should take COVID-19 as a godsend opportunity to re-organise the way we run our work-life on earth.
(The author acknowledges inputs from Ms. Dearbhla O’Reilly)
ILO (April 2020), COVID-19 and the world of work, Second Edition, ILO website: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/–dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_740877.pdf (Accessed on April 23, 2020)
BBC 2017, The Conversations with Agustin Chevez and DJ Huppatz, Swinburne University of Technology, BBC website :https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170818-the-ancient-roots-of-the-modern-office( Accessed on May 1, 2020).
MoveInSync (2019), Travel Time Report Q1 2019 vs Q1 2018,MoveInSync website:https://www.moveinsync.com/travel-time-report/( Accessed on May 3, 2020).
Corporate Advisor (2019), Flexible working can boost productivity levels: Vitality, Corporate Advisor website: https://corporate-adviser.com/flexible-working-can-boost-productivity-levels-vitality/(Accessed on May 3, 2020).
Unites States Census Bureau Community Survey (2019), Average US commute time: 26.6 Minutes according to the Unites States Census Bureau Community Survey, website: https://www.census.gov/search-results.html?q=Average+Commute+Time+Census&page=1&stateGeo=none&searchtype=web&cssp=SERP( Accessed on May 2, 2020).
Eurofound (2019), European Quality of Life Survey, website:https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/report/2019/working-time-in-2017-2018(Accessed on May 2, 2020).
Statista (2015), Average travel time for work in China, Statista website: https://www.statista.com/statistics/942507/china-average-travel-time-for-work-by-city/(Accessed on May 2, 2020).