Imagine waking up in the morning, going out onto your patio/balcony, and surprisingly seeing mountains with snow on the peaks for the first time. You would think you are still in dreams, but this has been a reality for the kids in some cities of India, where they have seen Himalayan mountains from their house for the first time in their life, when they did not even know that their house can have a beautiful site like that. But this is what we have given to our new generations, and Covid-19 has made them question us on this.
The spread of the virus from China to the whole world has forced a lot of the countries into lockdown. Although the lockdown has caused great inconvenience, unemployment, and health issues from the lockdown itself, various photos have come out showing how skies have become very clear, how air pollution has significantly come down and how the air quality of various countries and cities significantly improved. As mentioned, in India there are reports of how people in some cities can see the Himalayas for the first time in decades, apart from this there are reports of people being able to breathe fresh air, birds starting to migrate back to cities, and the citing of various probable UFOs. Apart from factories' pollution cut, the vehicles not being on roads is the major contributor to this. Although we all love the fact that air quality has improved and pollution has come down, we do know that this is temporary and that as soon as this lockdown ends it will bring back pollution, foggy skies, and all ruckus caused by human societies.
So, what can we people, the govts of not just India but the whole world, and corporate companies take away from this? What can we do to make the situation better than before if not like covid times? We all know that office commute is the primary reason for vehicles on the road, and flights in the air for business travel. Therefore, we should shift our work culture from offices to homes and let people work from home permanently, but let's first analyze lots of benefits and some drawbacks of doing that.
Some facts before looking into the benefits and drawbacks.
Recent studies in India have found that Indian office-goers across 6 cities (Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune) spend an average of 2 hours every day on commute. There are also reports that the IT population in the city of Hyderabad alone is set to increase to 10 Lakhs (1 million) in the next 3 years. That means only IT employees in Hyderabad alone will be spending 20 Lakhs or 2 million hours every month on the office commute. Even the most conservative estimate of all office goers of these 6 cities, who can otherwise work from home without going to office, would come to 1.5 Crore or 15 million hours every month. And we all know that time is money, and the countries which let their citizens save more time will become more prosperous.
Let’s look at money directly saved only on fuel consumption. If we calculate the average commute distance and estimate that half of this population uses public transport, the most conservative estimate of fuel consumed in Hyderabad alone by these office goers would come to 80k barrels per month, which on an average is Rs.25 Crore. If we then apply this to the big 6 cities, the estimate would come to Rs.220 Crore per month. So on average, the office goers who can work from home spend Rs.2800 Crores per year or around 500 million dollars on fuel for office commute. Which would be more than $1.5 Trillion (equivalent to Canada’s economy) world savings on fuel if the whole world decides to do this. This is excluding the oil import cost, refining cost, transport cost, maintenance cost, etc.
Now let’s look at the benefits of working from home, other than pollution
Work-life balance has gained a lot of importance lately and there is no better way to improve it than letting people work from home. The quality of life greatly improves and people will have more control over their daily life. Night shift jobs are very common in India, with offshore working models, and these jobs can easily be done from home, giving more time for family life and reducing the health impacts that these night jobs bring to the body. People will spend more time with family and friends, which means more joy in life which in turn creates a positive impact on work.
2. Health benefits
Other than not getting exposed to pollution, the other health benefits of working from home can be:
Stress relief - commuting in rush hour traffic gives a lot of stress to individuals, be it from driving or the noise. The stress and anxiety levels of people can be improved with work from home.
Healthier body - with more time in hand, people can get some extra sleep, or spend more time on exercise/yoga/meditation. It can also lead to healthy eating habits and eating home-cooked food and snacks.
Personal satisfaction - it also leads to higher satisfaction levels which make people more positive and happy.
3. More time for kids
Parenting with no time for kids has been a growing problem all over the world. Working parents with busy work schedules spend a lot of money on kids but always worry about not being able to spend time on kids. For better development of kids, it is crucial that parents spend time with them and be present in their lives not just physically but more so emotionally.
This initiative helps in decreasing accidents while rushing to offices in rush hours, this is very important in countries like India where the Govt spends a lot of resources on accident prevention, leading to govt savings. The initiative also helps with issues of crime and women’s safety. There are several cases where women faced issues while working night shifts. Although companies provide cabs there are cases of assault by those very cab drivers. Working from home, especially for women working night shifts, greatly helps in their safety.
4. Increase in tourism
People tend to plan more vacations if they are let to work from home, as they have the liberty to work from anywhere and as they tend to get away from the home office more. This is a boost to the tourism industry of the country.
5. Less urban migration
The migration of the rural population to big cities has been a problem for a long time now all over the world and is still a growing problem. Some villages in India are seeing a shortage of farm labor, because of the migration. Working from home reduces city migration, as many people prefer going back to their smaller towns where they have families, friends, houses, and other livelihoods. This will bring us to the next point that is
6. Growth of smaller towns and rural areas
The spending of these people will come back to smaller towns, thereby improving the economy of these towns and resulting in the organic growth of the country in the long term. Govts can also get relief from high dependency on the metro city population for their revenue. Another benefit is that it will help fight rural brain drain which is a growing concern in many countries especially in countries like India, where a lot of skill, culture, traditions, and values are preserved by the rural population. There is also a growing concern of agro brain drain, and this initiative will help fight that. This brings us to the next benefit
7. Educated people in traditional skill-based sectors
More and more youngsters are showing interest in farming, but only if they could leave the city and go to farms. One of the biggest problems for passionate farmers in India is the shortage of money resulting in farmer suicides, which to an extent can be solved by these young passionate potential farmers. These potential farmers not only bring in money into the fields but also innovation with their exposure to technology and city life. This is not just limited to farming, but in countries like India where the ancestral skill is getting lost amidst metropolitan migration, it can be promising for other sectors as well.
8. Less govt spending on urban infrastructure
Besides pollution control, in the long term, the congestion of cities will decrease, thereby decreasing the load on the roads and urban infrastructure. It will also help fight the takeover of farmlands by big cities for infrastructure development.
9. For companies
The companies can spend less on expanding the offices to accommodate the growing employee count, especially the companies in big cities of the world where real estate is becoming more and more expensive. Employees who are let to work from home are less likely to quit their jobs, which will help companies fight their growing concern for talent retention. A study conducted by Stanford University suggests that people when working from home are more productive than working from the office, breaking the general myth that working from home leads to less productivity. Companies can also hire people from anywhere and don’t have to stick to just the local population. Another added benefit for the companies that take early dive into this is good PR.
Companies in the interview process nowadays are giving more importance to managerial skills and being able to work independently. More companies should give importance to this, especially in countries where management has become synonymous with supervision. This way employees will be able to manage their work and take ownership of the work assigned. Govts should include this in the education curriculum to make the attitude shift of the skilled workers and their managers to outgrow from supervision.
Two important drawbacks of this initiative are the less intermixing of the population and short term disruption. In countries like India, where there is a great divide between North and South and different states and already less intermixing of population, this can bring in more challenges.
There would be short term disruption, as businesses dependent on this population may run into losses or go out of business. But most of the labor for these businesses is anyways coming from rural areas, so maybe disruption in the short term but a benefit in the long term.
In conclusion, we can see how caring for the environment makes our lives better, supporting the saying that if we care for nature, nature will automatically care for us, by helping us lead happy lives, improve quality of life, and save money. Let's put pollution control as the priority and give our younger generation a better environment and let's not give them our haunted dreams, but rather let's dream beautiful for them.