As I was walking by the desk of my colleague, I happened to stumble upon a copy of the Journal EDGE produced by the Institute of Leadership and Management, United Kingdom. The headline Goodbye 9 to 5 – is it the end of the commute stopped me for a minute. I borrowed the copy of the journal for my weekend reading.

Interesting, worrying, exciting, challenging and thought provoking are some of the words that came up to my mind, after reading the articles. The end of 9 to 5 workday is here to stay. The Covid 19 pandemic crisis has thrown a myriad of new requirements which means less people at work any one time, need to maintain physical distancing, wear masks, check temperatures, having fewer people on the elevators and  ensuring three steps away on the escalator, all to ensure we have a safe working environment. With the lockdown in place in most countries, fewer people are at work in the office. Most organisations are giving up real estate space and finding that with technology, work can be more productive when employees work from home (WFM).

Despite this, there will be employees who may not wish to be working from home given their personal circumstances such as a lack of privacy to work. There maybe a need to accommodate  their needs. The best way to find out what works is to survey the employees. There is a need to give employees comfort so that they are at ease and they get back to being productive. Of course, technology will play a big role with video conferencing capabilities, touchless doors and contactless delivery taking centre stage. We need to invest in technology, develop trust, promote self discipline, create processes and empower our employees to stay productive in this new world. There will be an impact on office designs, flexible workdays and real estate.

When a cure and a vaccine is found, the profound changes that have taken place since the beginning of the lockdown will probably be everlasting. The end of 9 to 5 work, working from home and telecommuting is likely to be the new normal. A hybrid approach to work – working from home and working from office for part of the time is likely to stay. Surely employers are likely to be worried about losing the creativity and productivity of employees. While WFM can be productive, the lack of peer and social interaction cannot be understated.

Historically, the Chettiar diaspora found a way to address these issues by having a clear demarcation between work and living spaces by creating the Kittangis – a commune where they lived in one part of the building but worked in another section. Physical distancing was encouraged to ensure privacy and provide a safe working environment. Productivity, Work Life balance and spirituality was encouraged as a way of life. While the kittangi has been swept away in the world with modern office concepts and designs, I could not but think about the lessons we can take away from history.