Because I am a woman

Being agile – What does that mean to you in your personal and professional life?

Traditional work styles have long excluded an entire workforce of women world over sitting in their homes. It's time to embrace flexi ways of working rooted in agile mindset.
Published at legal search and consulting firm Vahura.

It’s a regular Monday morning in Sharma household. Sunita gets up at 5am. She makes a cup of tea while her smartphone buzzes with notifications. A sip of kadak chai, a snippet of world affairs, until the clock strikes 6.30am. She wakes up Anshu and Ashi, two pieces of her heart, and readies them for school. Her husband Ravi gets dressed for office. The cook comes, prepares breakfast, and packs tiffin. The cleaner mops the rooms. By 8.30am, Ravi takes their car out, drops Anshu and Ashi at the school gate, and heads to work.

Now Sunita’s free to get on with her office work until 2pm. She gives clothes for laundry, grabs a bowl of cereal, and sits with her laptop at her work-desk as sacrosanct to her as the mandir in the hall. She greets her reporting boss Jitin and her colleagues on the office Whatsapp group, responds to emails, and ferociously types away on her latest project. She’s already accessing password-protected data uploaded on a common server using cloud technology that her colleagues’ will access from the office building post 10am.

Before she knows it, it’s 2pm! She walks to the bus stop to pick up Anshu and Ashi. While listening to their peppy details, she gives them a bath, serves lunch that the cook prepared, and shares bits of her wisdom and positivity. By 4pm, Anshu and Ashi are in their room, busy with activities depending on each day’s requirement. Craft work, playing Lego, doing their homework, or catching sleep. During that time, Sunita leaves for the gym for an hour’s workout. She doesn’t miss her daily dose of fitness for anything in the world. On her way back around 5pm, she downloads a file from her colleague on her smartphone, reads the fresh set of emails, and makes mental notes. She’s back in time for Anshu and Ashi to get dressed and go for games. The doorbell rings. The neighbour’s children are here. Together, off they go to the society’s common play area under amma’s supervision. Amma is Sunita’s neighbour’s caretaker.

By 5.30pm, Sunita is back at her work desk. She continues working on the ongoing project and prepares for a Skype call with a US-based client. The call is scheduled for 7pm India time. Well exercised and well prepared, Sunita’s set to e-meet her client. 10 minutes before the call, she slips into a formal top and ties up her hair. The call spills over until after 8pm. Anshu and Ashi are back from games by then. But that’s not a bother. They go to their room without making noise. They’ve been taught to respect mummy’s “work-desk mode.” Sunita sends a summary email to Jitin and the client explaining the developments. She logs in her hours and work done in a shared time sheet to track progress.

She calls out to Anshu and Ashi to come to the dining table with their homework and ask her doubts while she’s in the kitchen preparing dinner. They talk, laugh and trouble each other in playful banter, while she cooks their favourite aloo-gobhi ki sabzi. Around 9pm, the doorbell rings. Anshu and Ashi jump in excitement. They know their father is back. Ravi comes in, changes, and sits with them. He serves them dinner, and talks about their day and his day, leaving Sunita free to get fresh, and settle down. He helps them pack their bags for Tuesday, puts them to bed, and joins Sunita. They chat about their day, and sleep off by 11pm. But tomorrow Sunita has to go for a 10am meeting as an overseas client is in India for few days. So she spends an extra hour before the screen, going over nuances she’ll bring out. Her family life and work life in harmony, Sunita falls into deep slumber the moment she shuts her eyes.

So, what just happened here? How was Sunita able to give opportune time to her children while fulfilling her aspirations as a ‘working woman’? Why was this ideal scenario possible? What was special about the Sharma household?

The answer lies in the most important undercurrent in Sunita’s personal and professional life – agility. The Sharma ecosystem is made of people with an ‘agile mindset.’

Let’s understand how.

Start with the hero of our scenario, Sunita. She knows which hours of the day and what locations are productive for her professional work. She also knows which parts of her personal life she must pay attention to and which parts may be delegated to others. She maintains a strong support system including her cook, cleaner, and neighbour’s caretaker. She doesn’t feel guilty that her children’s breakfast and lunch are prepared by her cook. She doesn’t beat herself up over the carpet being cleaned only on Sundays. She believes that she can don many roles such as Sunita as a professional, a mother, a wife, a homemaker, and an employee only if she is ‘an agile individual.’

Now let’s look at Sunita’s husband Ravi. He knows that earning money and having an identity outside of being a wife and mother is precious to Sunita. He also appreciates that parenting is his responsibility too. So he chips in at the start and at the end of the day. He drops his children to school, serves them dinner, and puts them to bed. He’s also not fussy about eating only ‘Sunita ke haath ka khaana’ all the time.

Outside Sunita’s household, who’s the most crucial person and entity enabling the agility in Sunita’s work life? Its Sunita’s reporting boss Jitin and the company she works for. Jitin is sensitive that Sunita has two growing children who cannot be left to their own accord or to someone else from 9am to 6pm. Jitin knew that it only makes business sense to find a constructive way that enables Sunita to work for the company, just as she did pre-motherhood. The answer was in his trust in Sunita’s capability and commitment to work remotely in the hours that matched her routine. Of course, on occasions that need her physical presence, Sunita makes adjustments such as the 10am meeting with the overseas client visiting office. Plus, the company is using cloud sharing platforms to enable employees like Sunita to work at par with other employees.

Such agility is a must for everyone today, and within that, a must for the workforce. Unlike how businesses were modelled say in the 1990s and 2000s, today we live in a global economy with cross border transactions and projects cutting across time zones. Locations are becoming fluid. Technological advancements are allowing real-time virtual conversations and connectivity. As a result, employees are comfortably delivering work to clients with nil face-to-face meetings. Clients don’t care where employees work from, as long as their expectations are met.

Even lifestyles have changed. Both husband and wife are working while living in nuclear families. They are also frequently traveling for work. Commutes to reach offices are getting longer. Even work hours are increasing as employees are wired in all the time.

Because of these new pulls and pressures, we are naturally progressing towards a new default mode – the flexi way of working. It is rooted in mental agility to tweak household responsibilities and an openness from organizations to tweak the existing work processes. It’s accepting that when employees work from any place outside the four walls of office, it doesn’t mean they’re kaamchor or low on commitment.

Traditional styles of working have long excluded an entire workforce of untapped talent world over sitting in their homes. Why? Simply because companies are resistant to adapting their long standing work styles in a way that enables such men and women to work from different locations without affecting the work output itself.

The good news is that Sunita’s employer is no longer a dream scenario or an exception.  Businesses with agile mindset are adjusting their styles of working to manage their employees remotely. They are using technology to their advantage and building themselves as the preferred employers of tomorrow. No surprise that the cover page of the November 2019 issue of Business World magazine announces, “Technology and employee well-being are the leading trends that will shape the future workspaces.”

This article was published at Vahura.

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