After the Covid19 pandemic restricted people and froze life, all of a sudden Work from Home (WfH) became the only option. Its flip side apart, the benefits it entails encouraged a section of companies, institutions and governments to continue working virtually. Thousand of youth in opportunity-dry Kashmir are WfH who gave insights of their work to Syed Shadab Ali Gillani
With the Covid-19-triggered lockdown spearheading the concept of ‘virtual life’, a number of institutions and individuals adopted the idea. It started offering livelihoods to the people who, for one or the other reason, may not dislocate to earn. In Kashmir, a good number of boys and girls have adopted the Work from Home (WfH) and are earning their livelihoods.
Syed Soliha Shah’s foray into the world of remote work commenced soon after she completed her master’s degree at the University of Kashmir. The acute scarcity of promising placement opportunities in the region was her first life lesson. The university offered limited support, with only a handful of unattractive companies visiting for placements, offering meagre packages that did little justice to her hard-earned degree.
Frustration and determination became her constant companions as she embarked on the arduous journey of job hunting. Armed with her laptop and a LinkedIn profile, Soliha diligently scoured the digital landscape for job prospects. However, she soon realised that the local job market for recent graduates in Kashmir was rather barren. She eventually succeeded.
“I am a senior software developer at a marketing company in Chicago, United States of America (USA). My role primarily involves creating new projects and resolving software bugs. I thoroughly enjoy my work, appreciate the company’s culture, and value their emphasis on the physical and mental well-being of their employees,” Soliha said. “I have an annual package of around 14-15 lakhs, working remotely.”
For hundreds of well-read and jobless people, the open market jobs available online have opened a window of opportunity. It has paved the way for skilled professionals to showcase their talents on a wider canvas. This helps them transcend geographical barriers and discover opportunities in diverse industries. They pick up new work ethics and understand diverse cultures.
Remote Work Benefits
Muhammad Imraan is currently a Master’s student in Computer Applications, specialising in Artificial Intelligence (AI). When he looks for job opportunities, he gives priority to roles within the AI field that align with his career goals, offer potential for future growth, and allow for a healthy work-life balance. “If the job allows me to work from home, that is the icing on the cake,” Imraan said.
Asifa Wani, an IT service operations analyst, is primarily responsible for supporting internal applications and services for her company’s employees. Her role is crucial in ensuring the seamless operation of the services vital to the company’s functionality.
“Based on my experience, working from home is a game-changer,” Asifa said. “It saves a significant amount of time, eliminates the hassles of commuting, and allows me to manage household tasks efficiently. It is also a cost-effective option, sparing me from hefty rent and other expenses, making it easier to maintain a work-life balance, especially for married women who juggle household chores and childcare.”
“I believe WfH opens doors for youth to work for companies in different geographic regions, potentially expanding job opportunities, especially in a place like Kashmir,” Muniba Khan, who lives in Baramulla, said. “While online job searching has advantages, it is not a guaranteed solution to unemployment. The online job market can be competitive and not all industries or positions may be readily available online.” There is always a lurking danger of job seekers ending up as victims of scams.
Muniba herself embraced the WFH lifestyle. “I work as an Educator (teacher) at a renowned Ed-tech company in India. It typically earns me around Rs 25 thousand a month, varying with my availability and the number of classes I teach daily.”
Afzal Siddiqui is a software engineer who believes remote work can lead to increased productivity and improved employee morale when working from a distance. “It offers greater flexibility, allowing individuals to choose more creative and convenient working hours,” he said. “As a DevOps Engineer in the software development and IT industry, I employ a methodology that integrates and automates tasks to enhance efficiency and shorten the systems development life cycle.”
Changes on Ground
The surge in remote work has transformed career approaches, offering enticing prospects for those seeking flexibility and long-term financial stability. Building and evolving one’s skills, adapting to market trends, and maintaining a robust professional network are essential for securing stable and lucrative remote job opportunities.
Another remote worker, Laraib Bhat, suggests that remote work, often referred to as WfH, is frequently seen as a potential solution for addressing employment challenges.
Remote work encompasses a wide range of job roles, spanning IT, customer service, marketing, and more. Currently, she holds the position of a senior software developer. “Earnings in remote work are contingent on the specific job and individual factors, but it can result in savings related to commuting expenses. Some individuals find remote work convenient, while others grapple with feelings of isolation and distractions.”
In a region that has grappled with economic hardships, this opportunity is a lifeline for many.
A Silver Lining
Asifa believes that remote work has been a blessing for Kashmir, dispelling the notion that it contributes to unemployment. “Many individuals who previously could not work outside of Kashmir have now found opportunities to work from the comfort of their homes,” Asifa said. The numbers are increasing gradually but surely.
There are certain areas where WfH is preferred. “In the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), many AI-related roles and positions, such as Machine Learning Engineer, Data Scientist, or AI Researcher, can be performed remotely,” Imraan said.
Numerous tech companies and AI-focused organisations have adapted to remote work by fostering collaboration through online meetings, messaging apps, and collaborative platforms, emphasising knowledge sharing and teamwork through online channels. “Companies that support remote work often provide pathways for advancement, including promotions and specialised roles within AI teams. Remote work also enhances work-life balance by eliminating the need for commuting and providing more flexibility in managing work hours.”
Imraan acknowledges that the WfH is a window to help manage part of the joblessness but it is neither sustainable on a long-term basis nor too huge to manage the entire unemployment. “The WfH is not a one-size-fits-all solution,” Imraan said. “Some businesses are reverting to in-office work, which can limit the scope of remote opportunities. Besides, not all industries and job roles are suitable for remote work, as some require physical presence as well.”
Adds Soliha: “There are also downsides, such as the potential for isolation, lack of in-person social interaction, and the risk of physical and mental health issues due to prolonged periods of sitting and reduced human interaction.”
However, it is not always a smooth journey. Sometimes internet outage or power load shedding can run riot at a crucial time. For many time zone difference is a serious headache. The lack of social interaction in traditional office settings has been a cause for concern among some.
Drawing from her own experiences with remote work, Soliha pointed out that working from home can have a dual impact on an individual’s well-being. Conversely, it carries the potential to negatively impact physical health due to prolonged periods of sitting and reduced physical activity. Besides, the absence of regular social interactions can take a toll on mental health, giving rise to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Afzal pinpointed three specific ways in which WfH could adversely affect mental health: the sense of loneliness stemming from inadequate support, the absence of physical connections leading to increased stress and anxiety, and the difficulty in establishing a robust support network, which is instrumental in preserving good mental health.
Balancing Work and Life
Muniba acknowledged that, conversely, it can sometimes be challenging to delineate the boundaries between work and personal life when home serves as your office. “This can lead to overwork and burnout.”
Home environments, she noted, abound with potential distractions, from household chores and family members to noisy neighbours, all of which can disrupt one’s work routine.
“I think WFH can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle,” Mubina admitted. “For me, on the flipside, it helped me have more control over my meals and make healthier food choices compared to eating out.”
Asifa, however, underscores the importance of addressing the potential health challenges associated with remote work through proactive measures such as exercise and ergonomic adjustments.
“Working for long hours without any physical movement can cause you to become overweight. Overeating while working can cause obesity. Staying in bed and working for extended periods can lead to neck problems and back pain.” Asifa personally took the initiative to join a gym to stay fit and healthy while balancing her work responsibilities.
The Flip Side
For Muniba, working online had turned out to be a rewarding and unique experience. “It offers flexibility in terms of when and where you work,” she explained. “You can set your hours to some extent, which can be particularly helpful for those with other commitments. Also, in teaching specifically, you can potentially reach students from all around the world, allowing for diverse interactions and cultural experiences. Therefore, it requires adaptability, strong communication skills, and a commitment to facilitating meaningful learning experiences in a virtual setting, which I personally found amazing!”
IT analyst, Asifa’s experience illustrates the profound positive impact of remote work. However, amid the celebration of these advantages, she astutely emphasises the crucial need to address potential health challenges associated with it. “Proactive measures such as regular exercise and ergonomic adjustments are essential to ensure a balanced and sustainable remote work lifestyle,” she mentions.
On the other hand, Maleeha Sofi recognises the lack of traditional workplace professionalism in the digital space. “There is a certain aura that came with stepping into an office, something I missed,” she admits.
Unlike others who work for different time zones, Maleeha teaches students within India. “This alignment showcases the flexibility that remote work can offer when tailored to individual needs and circumstances.”
Maleeha’s journey into the world of remote teaching has not only provided her with financial stability but also a profound sense of accomplishment and happiness. As she continued her studies and shared her knowledge from the comfort of her own home, she discovered that, sometimes, the best opportunities were the ones she proactively created for herself.
Back in 2021, when Covid19 had engulfed the world, and most sectors had transitioned online, Asma, a master’s student in Mass Communication and Journalism, faced a daunting task – finding an internship with no contacts or knowledge of platforms like LinkedIn and Internshala. She searched tirelessly for opportunities but came up empty-handed until one day, a message lit up her phone screen: “Internship opportunity available.” It was a message in her classroom group, and it filled Asma with hope. “Because I knew nobody and had no idea how to apply, that one message brought me immense joy.” Without delay, she contacted the provided number.
The number belonged to an online news portal in Delhi that was actively hiring remote interns. “I underwent the process, interviewed over the phone, had my work samples assessed, and that is how I secured the position,” Asma said. She became an intern reporter, working from home, and received compensation for her work. Asma did step outside; her tasks primarily involved writing articles, and all the necessary resources were available online. With time, she not only earned but also grew to enjoy her job, eventually landing a full-time position with the company.
While Asma continued her online work, she also explored other job opportunities. “I was earning and building a profile for myself. Remote opportunities allowed me to multitask effectively,” she admitted.
Factors behind The Trend
Imraan believes that the increased adoption of remote work in Kashmir, like in many other regions, can be attributed to several factors. “Kashmir has a high unemployment rate, and many people are struggling to find traditional jobs. Remote work offers an alternative way to earn a living, and it can be done from anywhere. The internet infrastructure in Kashmir has improved significantly in recent years, making it easier for people to work remotely.”
Imraan also believes that the pandemic forced many businesses to adopt remote work policies to keep their employees safe, which led to a significant increase in the number of people who were working remotely in Kashmir, and some have continued with it even as pandemic-related restrictions eased.
Remote work, with its pros and cons, has emerged as a silver lining in the lives of many Kashmiris. As they navigate the challenges of a digital workspace, the youth are rewriting their own narratives, proving that hope and opportunity can thrive even in the most unlikely of places.