Thursday, July 2, 2009

Working from home – what’s that?

Most Indians are a lot more comfortable with the traditional NAUKRI – the “go” to work, 9 to something, office centric, JOB. And most people cannot even grasp what it is that I do. Even highly educated, “I think I am well informed” people I know are mystified when I say I am a freelance writer, editor, translator, and trainer. The concept of FREELANCE and EDITOR is restricted, in most peoples’ minds. Freelance and writer together automatically means either journalist or novelist. And EDITOR automatically means in-house editor of a magazine or a newspaper… or at best of films.

I get people on chat asking me “guide me how I can freelance” (shudder shudder!). As if freelance is a stream, a job that I can take CVs for. I can’t seem to explain to them that you can freelance in any field…. And since you know your field, and its demands, way better than I do, you are best qualified to decide if, and how, you can freelance. And most people can, today. The advent of outsourcing, innovations in communication technology that are now available to all of us, and the increasingly efficient, if not totally dependable, infrastructure in India have combined with changing attitudes, making it a lot more feasible to work from home, be self employed, and freelance, as a profession.

The question most people ask is “how does it work?” They know that working means going to the office, being employed by a company and working under a boss. So how do you take the office, boss and company out of the equation? And what’s the need? What’s the point of working for yourself rather than for someone else? There are obvious advantages to working at an office. You get to meet people everyday, you work in a much more regimented atmosphere, and you toil away under the direct supervision of the Boss Man.

This works rather well for most people especially if they are the kind who are disorganized, and tend to let things slide unless someone keeps after them with a whip all the time. It is so much easier, after all, to meet deadlines when someone is sitting on your head applying all manners of direct pressure. Being at the office seems to sharpen most people’s focus to the job at hand. They prefer to work without so many distractions and they know that people will think twice about disturbing them with trivialities because they are “at the office” during working hours.

Working from home, as freelancers like me realize, can be the diametric opposite. Whether you work from home for a company, or are a consultant or freelancers, you are your own boss, at least for the time being. This not only means that direct pressure is absent, it allows you to work in home clothes, without the commute, and often, the whole thing can become too casual. As I am unfortunately well aware, work hours almost never stay fixed, and it seems impossible to ignore household chores, the kid, the cooking, the bai, the paperwallah, or the postman, and to stick to schedules.

What this means, in real terms, is that you need much more self discipline, and the occasional all-nighter, to finish the allotted work in the allotted time, and meet deadlines. What complicates matters further is the complete and utter lack of understanding (of what it is you do, and that it is a “proper job”) among your friends and social circle, and you have buddies and “family” dropping in for a bit of a chat at any hour of the day because they know that you are always “at home only”. As you might guess, this isn’t exactly conducive to the best efficiency in work.

There are other downsides too. There are many times when one gets a project that is larger than one can handle alone, or has the chance of landing a huge deal. And when that happens, I desperately look around for someone to share the load with. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? But I have found….to my extreme disgust and disappointment, that it is anything but. First hurdle of course is to find someone who not only knows enough English but can also write idiomatically in both UK and US English. Really, really rare, as I found to my chagrin! Even if, surprise, surprise you do manage to find someone like that, 9 times out of ten they have a seriously underdeveloped sense of responsibility!

They seem all fired up and wildly interested to begin with. All of them are raring to go and willing and able to do all the work in exactly the allotted time. Well “good, great!” I think, before I delegate a large chunk of work to them. And what happens? Every single time, without exception, they have let me down. Either they didn’t even GET what the work was about, sending me complete trash as a result which I had to redo on my own time (meaning extra work for me at no extra pay). Or, and this is probably worse, they did an exemplary job o the writing, but showed a complete lack of any sense of responsibility.

The last one I tried for example promised to have the work done by a certain date. A week later, not only did I not have the completed work, I had not heard a peep from him to explain or to tell me the current status!!! With the client breathing down my neck, in imminent danger of losing not just this but all future ork from this particular client (who just happened to be an old, valued client, and a very good paymaster), I sent SMS on SMS, email upon email, all without any reply. Phone? Constantly either “switched off” or “not replying”. Neither did he let me know of any problems, in good enough time for me to do the work myself or arrange for an alternate writer, nor did he give me a leg to stand on when I spoke to the client. “When’s it going to get done? What’s the status? Has any of it been completed?” I just didn’t know!!! Such unprofessional behavior from most people is why freelancers still have a bad rep, and why people like me hesitate to bid for larger projects.

However, as someone who does not function at all well in regimentation, under “traditional and strict” orders, or with a “boss”, working from home and as a freelancer is the only viable option. This is also true because I am not “ambitious” in the sense that most people use the word. I do not want to be a small wheel or cog in a giant corporation for the rest of my life, forever climbing one more rung in the ever continuing run for “better” positions and packages. For me then, the more than ample money I make, doing something I love doing, and on my own terms with regard to working hours and total workload, works perfectly!

Orthodox attitudes in India add to the incentive to freelance, for me at least. The total lack of creative processes can be appalling, even in new age companies! Content Writers, in an elearning firm I once worked for, for example, were “expected” to sit at a computer terminal all day! To go to the loo, or for a quick smoke, or even to accept a phone call, we had to mark official breaks. Too many breaks a day meant an average work day of below 8 hours, over a month, and would result in a deduction from our pay!!!! And all this, in order to produce the required five 500-word articles a day! Needless to say, it DIDN’T work, at all. Everyone grumbled, morale was abysmal, the writers were bored, and as a result, both creativity and productivity suffered! Most writers would submit as little as two articles a day, as did I.

The surprising thing, of course, was that the company was founded by 4 “with it” engineers, who were well known for their out of the box thinking. The problem of course was the intermediary, the section chief who looked after the writing department. What the ex-corporate, “sarkari” mentality BOSS of the section completely and absolutely failed to realize, being the uncreative clod of dough that he was, is that u cannot get more creativity by forcing writers to spend more “terminal time”! If that worked, the agonizing writers block faced by most of the greatest writers on the planet at some point in their lives would have been solved by chaining themselves to their desks!!!!!

When I worked out a deal to work from home instead, not only did the quality of my work improve, I was sending in six or seven articles a day! Obviously then, in certain non-traditional, new age job profiles at least, working from home works quite well. But what seems beyond comprehension is that it can be extended to the more traditional professions as well, and just as easily. Look around you and, chances are, you will find many such examples. In my own immediate circle, there are engineers who are freelancing as consultants and tech writers on a project wise basis, making as much as they would in a proper JOB. Others continue on the payroll of their company, tele commuting, or working from home performing just as well, if not better. One “madman” I know quit a high profile, highly lucrative sales management job in a huge MNC, to teach MBA, as a freelance visiting faculty. And it works!! In a few months he is back to making as much as he was before, minus the stress, hypertension, and stress induced diabetes!

Additionally, there are larger benefits to society as a whole! This kind of “out of the box” work ethic is better for pockets all round. Everyone benefits, individual, company, nation, and world! For professionals like me, there are any numbers of advantages. Provided I can be disciplined and organized, working from home means comfort, freedom, and a huge amount of savings in terms of time, energy and money which would have been spent on commute. It means the elimination of stressors like bosses and marked breaks, of irritants like pesky and nonsensical rules and regulations, and no-brainer PROCESSES. It also gives me the time, energy and the opportunity to get more done at home and on the personal front, indulging in other pursuits.

For the company, there is a saving in travel allowances, savings on overheads as they no longer need to maintain huge offices at prohibitive costs, not to mention the advantages to be gained from happier, more efficient employees. On a national and global scale, of course it has manifold impact. Lower fuel consumption, lower traffic congestion, lower road rage, and a forced improvement of infrastructure caused by a higher demand for better connectivity.

So is the freelance or work from home model ideal? Is it the only way to work? Maybe not. Working from home takes a lot out of a person, and sometimes it is nice to be able to leave the office at the office. However, there are distinct possibilities to this mode of working, especially for people who need to do more …

No comments:

Post a Comment