A work-from-home economy

It’s 9.30 am on a Monday morning. You finish your breakfast and walk towards the kitchen to dispose your plate. As you do, you catch a quick glimpse outside through the window – the streets are deserted, save for a few lone vehicles making their way to a friends’ or relatives’.  You open the window and all you hear is the sound of the wind lashing against your windowpane. What’s more, the temperature seems to have fallen by a noticeable amount. As you slide the window shut, you can’t help but smile as a cool breeze brushes past your cheek. You try to recall – when was the last time you experienced such pleasant weather at 9.30 am in the peak of summer? Probably never, unless you consider the times you reached office early and sat in one of the meeting rooms, whose air conditioners were programmed to operate at a set temperature. You chuckle at the thought of comparing the weather to your office’s air conditioner. Just then, the doorbell rings, interrupting your thoughts. It’s probably the neighbors, whom you have known since your childhood and with whom you have been meaning to plan a road trip to a nearby city. You greet them with open arms and offer them some tea. After a brief discussion, you walk them to their doorstep and bid adieu.

You remember that it is the time of the year which you have been preparing for profusely – the day of the appraisal meeting. As you power on your laptop and log into skype, you collect your thoughts and revise some key figures in your head that are sure to reflect your performance over the past few quarters. You seem confident that you have not missed anything. The meeting goes better than you had perceived, and you promise to treat yourself by going to that fancy Chinese restaurant in South Bombay for lunch. The one that you always put off going to because of its sheer distance from your office and the heavy traffic that always ensued. You calculate that it is located at double the distance from your house, but you are sure that it would take you at most half the time to get there. You leave that thought for later as you get down to work. After marking your attendance in the online attendance software, you reply to some emails from your boss and a few clients.

The next three hours rush by and as you’re about to break for lunch, you hear a nightingale singing by your window. These birds come out during the day? Doesn’t matter. You take in the melody and ask your parents if they would like to join you for lunch. They gladly oblige. You fetch your car keys and tell them where you’ll are headed. As you make your way out of your building gate, you put down the windows of your car and allow the fresh air to greet you. The air seems to carry with it a pleasant scent, now that it is almost entirely deprived of carbon monoxide and other pollutants generated by our species. The only sounds that can be heard are that of a handful of stray engines whizzing past you on perhaps similar expeditions, and of birds chirping. You smile as your parents draw a comparison to their childhood days when traffic was contained, and pollution was not such a nuisance. It takes you no more than 25 minutes to cover the 21 kms between your house and the Chinese place. Now that’s a record.

You enter the restaurant and request your parents to place the order, while you reply to a message on your office Whatsapp group. It appears that an intern would be joining your team from tomorrow and you are due to take her interview on skype today evening. As you reply with a thumbs up, you over-hear a conversation from the adjacent table. A family of 4 trying to decide the venue of their vacation the following weekend. And during this off season! It’s probably the concept of work-from-home that has empowered families like these to plan such delightful trips. The word ‘home’ in ‘work-from-home’ does not necessarily mean one’s own home. So long as you have your laptop in person and a decent internet connection, your home could be on a bench by the lake for all you know! Lunch arrives without much delay and after having a sumptuous meal and thanking the waiter for his service, you drive back home with your parents snoring on the backseat. You play some music, so you don’t doze off yourself.

The next 3 hours rush by at your work-from -home workstation and finally you receive a reminder of the skype call you have with the intern. You have 20 minutes until the call, so you decide to treat yourself to a cup of ginger tea from downstairs. While you cross the park, you spot a father playing frisbee with his infant daughter while his laptop rest on a nearby bench. Just as he tends to his laptop, the mother serves as his replacement. The child is happy as ever. After your short break, you find yourself face to face with a lady in her mid-twenties, and who is due to intern at your organization starting the following day. After a brief meeting, you get back to shooting some emails and scheduling some client meetings, which would customarily take place at Mainland China or a Starbucks outlet depending on the time of the day.

You decide to call it a day when the clock strikes seven. Tonight, you would be joining your cousins for dinner on the terrace of their new home in Navi Mumbai. The distance, although in excess of 30 kms, doesn’t bother you much since you know the journey would take no more than 30minutes. After dressing for the occasion, you drive your car out of the garage and pick up a box of sweets from the nearby sweet shop. At 8 pm, you find yourself sitting on the terrace of an elegantly lavished house in Khargar (Navi Mumbai). As you congratulate your cousin and make your way to a table by the warm fireplace, you smile and wave at some known faces. As you sit by the terrace wall facing the street, Your cousin is the first to speak. “It’s quite nice this way, isn’t it? I have all the time in the world to devote to matters of interest and I can even afford to meet my parents in Pune every weekend!”. “It most certainly is”, you agree. You think back 1 year from the current date and reflect on how things came to be this way.

The COVID-19 outbreak, in all its viciousness, seemed to have played a vital role in the scheme of things. Shortly after the viral outbreak had been officially declared as contained by the WHO, major signatories of the Paris agreement – an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had got together and signed a deal to employ work-from-home in their respective unions with immediate effect. This had been done in close consultation with the WHO, which pointed out that global ambient air quality had drastically improved on account of the viral outbreak while there was a steep drop in PM10 levels worldwide. Drawing a conclusion based on this observation, the United Nations calculated that the majority of the significant emitters would be able to meet the Paris Agreement deadline in half the time, perhaps lesser! The signatories had approved, and the agreement was ratified without much delay.  The greatest pandemic of the 21st century appears to have come with a subtle message – “Preserve planet Earth!” Because without it, there would be no such thing as you or I. And frankly, who better to teach us this lesson than the oldest inhabitants of our planet?

Written By – Shomit Sengupta