In July last year, Yash Saxena, a systems engineer with Infosys in Hyderabad, decided to move back to his hometown Kashipur in Uttarakhand after his company announced work from home for employees. Calling it a ‘workcation’, the 24-year-old, who had been living away from home for the past six years, says ‘work-from-hometown’ has been a dream come true. “I always wanted to travel, but couldn’t because of work. But since October last year, I have picked up my passion and travel to at least two destinations a month for seven-eight days with a group of friends who are also working from home,” says Saxena, adding that he carries his laptop during his travels and takes breaks to work so that he doesn’t have to take leave. So far, he has visited Kedarnath, Tungnath (a Shiva temple in Rudraprayag), Gangotri, Yamunotri, Rishikesh, Madhyamaheshwar in the Garhwal Himalayas and Badrinath. Saxena, who is making the most of the fact that he lives in a hill station, is planning his next trip to Himachal Pradesh.
It has been good on the work front too. Saxena lives in a joint family of 10 and all his cousins are in the IT industry, so it’s easier to work with them, he says, adding that they usually work from the same room unless someone has a meeting. “I eat home-cooked food, travel anywhere I want to and am spending time with family. I want this to continue,” he says.
Saxena is one of the many professionals who have left the chaos and rush of metro cities to embrace a simpler life in smaller towns or hometowns as they work from home. The trend of migration to cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad has existed since the 1980s with Gurugram being a later addition. However, post 2020, a growing reverse trend is taking over—from people migrating to big cities for work to them moving away from metros as work comes home.
Like Saxena, 29-year-old media professional Madhusree Goswami also moved back to her hometown Darjeeling. Goswami, who had been working remotely for a year in Bengaluru, changed jobs in April and that’s when her family advised her to move back, as her new workplace also required her to work remotely. Most of her friends are also working remotely from Darjeeling and it’s been good catching up with them, she says, adding that work-from-hometown is like a paid vacation. “There are very few Covid cases in Darjeeling and so it is good to be back. There is no madness here. I get home-cooked food and my routine has started falling into place. In Bengaluru, I never woke up at 5.30 am for a walk, but now I do. When I was in school, I could read almost an entire book in a day, but when I started working, I could hardly read two pages a month. That has changed, too, as I have picked up reading,” shares Goswami, adding that she would love to continue working from her hometown.
Twenty-four-year-old systems engineer Shrey Pandey, who moved back to Jaipur from Hyderabad in June last year, also hopes for the remote working trend to continue as it means lesser expenditure and easier living. “I was living in an apartment with three people and we would share all the household work. It was somehow manageable, but then one spends on rent, grocery, electricity, etc, and all that is saved when you live at home,” says Pandey, who lives in his parents’ house, where he has his own room, which doubles up as a remote office.
In January this year, the Union labour ministry announced incorporating the ‘work from home’ option in establishments—having 300 or more workers—in the services sector as part of its draft model standing order. “Subject to conditions of appointment or agreement between employer and workers, employer may allow a worker to work from home for such periods or periods as may be determined by employer,” the draft code stated. However, employees who move to other towns for work-from-home may face a salary cut, while those working from home but without changing their location may face a change in allowance components. Transport allowance, for instance, may be replaced by Wi-Fi costs, etc.
With remote working getting even the government’s nod, the trend is likely to get stronger and play out on a larger scale, but it is yet to be seen how the wage rejig impacts it in the future.
Mixing it up
There are three types of professionals today: those who love working from their hometown, those who don’t and those who would love a hybrid model going ahead. The same is true for the student community as well. A trainee clinical psychologist pursuing MPhil from ICFAI University in Tripura, 26-year-old Deeksha Rathore returned to her hometown Dehradun in April this year after her first-semester exams. Her daily routine has fallen into place and studying remotely is working well too, but the challenge lies in the fact that there are no physical hospital visits and patient interactions, which reduce her training to theory only. “Psychologists in Tripura have started an initiative of giving tele-counselling to Covid patients, so we have to call up 20-25 patients every day and counsel them. But since there is no face-to-face interaction, building a rapport on the phone takes time… patients don’t open up and are unwilling to share. Most patients say they are fine even if they are not and don’t call back. It is hard to make them talk about their feelings on phone,” says Rathore, adding that counsellors like her can gain experience only through physical sessions.
That apart, Rathore says she has been enjoying her stay at home as she gets to eat home-cooked food. “North-eastern cuisine (in Tripura) was very new for me and I hadn’t become accustomed to it. I also did not know many people on campus, so it feels good to be back,” she shares.
Software developer Praful Parashar also prefers a hybrid model of working. The 24-year-old has been working for a startup in Bengaluru since August 2019 and returned to his hometown Agra in March last year. Working from his hometown, he says, has been a mixed experience as distractions are aplenty. “I was attending a virtual meeting at 9 pm one day and my family (parents and sister) was in the same room. They kept talking and when I had to speak during the meeting, I had to leave the room because of the disturbance,” says Parashar, adding that he can’t really blame his family, as his meeting was during non-work hours. Initially, working from the comfort of his bed seemed like a luxury, but one-and-a-half years of working like this has made it monotonous, he says. “I am missing the social interactions even though I am more productive at home. I would rather prefer a hybrid work model where one flies back home during no-office days,” says Parashar.
Hurdles & challenges
A 2020 University of Utah research titled Planning and Development Challenges in Western Gateway Communities shed light on the migration to smaller towns in the US and how it poses planning and developmental challenges for the authorities. In India, the challenges are far bigger, with internet connectivity and power supply being the major issues.
Many who have returned to their hometowns are already facing the challenges. Saxena, who lives in a hill station, agrees that at times electricity is unavailable for one-two days. This has happened three-four times since he moved back. “But it is manageable,” says Saxena, adding, “However, I miss the weekend getaways we had in Hyderabad. Since Uttarakhand is not as developed, we can’t do that here… and have to wait for everyone to get free to plan a trip. Even then, I love working from my hometown as the pros outweigh the cons.
Goswami quips that even though she has been working from her hometown, she hardly finds any time for her parents. “I log in early in the morning and get free by 9-10 pm, so I don’t get a lot of time with my family… yet I love working from the comfort of my hometown,” she says.
One thing is clear: the way we work now will never be the same again. It remains to be seen, however, how this trend of reverse migration will pan out in the coming years and what infrastructure and structural changes it will bring to cities and companies.