How work-from-home is big business

By Reya Mehrotra

The work-from-home culture has blurred the line between life at home and life at work. From trying to find the best position on the couch to work to zeroing down on that perfect attire for back-to-back video calls, everybody is trying to adapt to this new way of working. And with no end to the pandemic in near sight, people are now realising the importance of work-from-home essentials. It’s no wonder then that many brands are cashing in on this trend and bringing out products specifically for working from home. From furniture and desk accessories to clothing and shoes, there are a plethora of brands today that are helping employees make a successful transition from office to office-at-home.

Desk at home
Almost every home today has someone working on the bed, while another family member attends a video meeting from the balcony. But working like this can be distracting and detrimental to health, as a wrong posture can lead to a multitude of problems, including backache, headache, etc. Hence, the first thing one requires for remote working is proper furniture. It’s no wonder then that e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart are currently flooded with work tables, home office desk sets, office chairs, etc. Companies like Godrej Interio, Transteel, Wooden Street, Featherlite and Pepperfry, too, are responding to this increased demand for study tables, chairs, etc, with their offerings.

Not everybody, however, is willing to invest in expensive office furniture for home. For this segment, too, there’s help at hand in the form of furniture rental companies. Take, for instance, Fabrento, a Delhi-based service that provides high-quality furniture on rent. Revealing that the demand for work-from-home furniture has increased ever since the lockdown was first announced, founder Sidhant Lamba says, “The most number of queries were for desks. Our desks were, in fact, soon sold out and we had to immediately manufacture some new ones.”

In July, the company rolled out a customised range of work-from-home furniture that caters to all kinds of rooms and requirements. It has also now started renting laptops as the workforce continues to operate from home and the demand for laptops is on the rise. “Considering the high demand, we have launched a new range of desks and a work-from-home range as well, depending on the setup and size of the room. We have designed different kinds of desks for every individual’s requirements. Like one for the tablet, one for storage of files, laptop, phone, etc. We also have several packages, adapting different kinds of furniture, to make it cheaper and convenient for people,” says Lamba, adding that a designated workspace at home increases productivity and helps in concentration.

Then there are companies which are providing employees financial reimbursement for any work-from-home furniture they may need to purchase. Take, for instance, Gurugram-based tech startup Bobble AI, which helps employees make a workspace at home, compensating them for the cost incurred. “Our ‘Office at Home’ policy takes away the financial burden from employees. It provides an allowance for all work-related equipment such as ACs, chairs, tables, etc. The policy has received a warm welcome from all our employees. Already 50% of them have set up their home office using it and are working in a much more comfortable environment,” says Rakshita Shharma, vice-president, human capital, Bobble AI. In April, the company also rolled out the Asset Policy, which gives employees significant discounts on the purchase of laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Even before the pandemic, the startup had a policy, wherein it provided employees small loans at zero interest, with no formalities involved. Employees could repay the loan at their convenience in a span of 12-16 months.

Creating an office space at home is an upscale task for sure, but brands like Chumbak are making it a little easier, as well as fun. The startup has added essentials like a ‘Chai On My Mind’ desk accessories set, which consists of a cardholder, pen holder, sticky notes box and calendar.

You can also adorn your home desk with artwork. How about miniature ‘social distancing’ furniture? Kanpur-based retired bank employee Gopal Khanna has been designing it as a hobby since May this year. Needless to say, the 74-year-old was inspired by the idea of social distancing. “I have designed a social distancing bed, sofa, dining table and swing,” says Khanna, who has been crafting miniature artwork from wood since the age of six, but started concentrating on his hobby full-time only after his retirement in 2008. “The idea of social distancing, standing apart, sitting apart amused me,” says Khanna, who plans to display his work in exhibitions.

What Gopal did as a hobby is now a business. Hello World (an independent subsidiary of online rental platform Nestaway Technologies), which provides co-living, co-working and social spaces, announced in June the launch of 360Life, which provides contactless home rental solutions. The properties under the banner have been designed to maintain social distancing under the guidance of health and interior experts, technology-enabled features, safety controls like temperature checks, obligatory protective gear for tenants and staff, regular building and unit disinfection, etc. “Through 360Life, we are trying to redefine urban living post Covid by not just providing a private living space, which can convert into your private office, but a safe living that can also fulfill your social needs,” Jitendra Jagadev, founder and CEO, Hello World, said during its launch.

As people spend longer periods of time working at home, there’s been a greater emphasis on clothes that offer both comfort and utility. In its Spring-Summer collection in March, e-commerce platform Myntra launched work-from-home wear that included conference call-wear, among other styles. “WFH-wear is generating strong demand from consumers, with lounge pants and joggers among our highest-selling products, witnessing up to eight times increase from pre-lockdown daily sales,” says Ayyappan Rajagopal, head of business, Myntra. “Comfort is being prioritised over the pre-lockdown trend of event/occasion-led purchases. There is a sudden and drastic surge in demand for fashion items that are suitable for both home and professional settings, such as casuals, T-shirts, lounge pants and athleisure clothes. T-shirts are currently the top-selling product under the WFH category. We are also seeing an almost two-three times surge in organic searches for categories like shorts and comfort-wear, which indicates a strong consumer intent in these segments,” he adds.

Multi-purpose items such as T-shirts with attached masks or work-from-home sets with a mask are growing in popularity and are becoming a key theme of Myntra’s WFH collection. “We have a plethora of multi-functional garments such as sweat-free, wrinkle-free and quick-dry T-shirts, which are convenient for chores, as well as online meetings,” says Rajagopal, adding that the category will continue to be a focus area. “The need for WFH attire was born out of the shifting fashion needs of millions who have had to work from home over the last few months across India. For the foreseeable future, WFH-wear will be a big focus area and we will continue to ramp up our collection to meet the demand,” he says.

Other brands such as Marks & Spencer, Under Armour, H&M, Jack and Jones, UCB, HRX, etc, have spotted the opportunity too and are venturing into the category. For designing work-from-home wear, though, certain aspects need to be kept in mind. The key among these are durability, size, fit and comfort, all the while providing a sharp professional look. Gurugram-based online workwear brand Fablestreet, which offers tailored clothing according to body measurements, launched its ‘Work From Home Edit’ collection in June, which includes breezy pants, relaxed silhouettes, linens and cottons, and dresses with pockets. The high-quality but low-maintenance outfits are wearable, summery and lightweight. Founder Ayushi Gudwani says the collection caters exclusively to the new normal. “A lot of people were looking for relevant clothing, which they could work from home in, as well as feel professional and happy in. Our consumers have loved the comfort and versatility of our collection, which offers easy, versatile and breathable pieces. When working from home, consumers want breezy styles that are easy to care for. Categories include dresses, tops, shirts, shorts, skorts, culottes and skirts in cotton, linen, etc. These products are not going off the website for a few months at least,” says Delhi-based Gudwani. From material to the design, everything in the collection has been customised to provide comfort. There are, for instance, no full-length trousers or shirts. All the styles are relaxed and easy to slip into. “We have refrained from polyester, as people tend to avoid the material while working from home. We have instead used linens and cottons that are soft on the skin. Designs include deep pockets, elastic waistbands, appropriate lengths in skorts and skirts, etc, to avoid feeling uncomfortable,” she says, adding, “Dressing up, be it for video meetings or running errands, makes you feel confident and increases productivity.”

Feet first
Interestingly, not just clothes, but footwear brands, too, are jumping on to the WFH-wear bandwagon. Comfortable shoes such as sliders and flip flops are trending as people ditch office shoes and high heels for utility. Matteo Lambert, chief collection officer at Bata, calls it ‘industry-casualisation’, born though the work-from-home protocol. The footwear retailer brand, in fact, has curated a special work-from-home shoe collection. “Currently, people are investing more in comfortable footwear that they can sport throughout the day. And so, keeping abreast of the situation, we have curated a collection of work-from-home footwear, which will cater to the footwear needs of the entire family,” says Lambert, adding that the collection has been designed keeping in mind comfort. “Our collection can be worn throughout the day and keeps feet cozy and comfortable. It includes flip flops, floaters and sandals. We also have a range of fitness and workout footwear under our flagship brand Power designed to address home fitness needs. Our Home Training Collection is especially designed to enable body weight exercises like spot running and home gymming without any hindrance, while our Walking Collection is perfect for brisk and power walking,” he says, adding that they have received a positive response from customers.

The brand’s range of work-from-home footwear is available across all Bata stores and e-commerce partners for the foreseeable future. “As we continue to work from home, we are busier and more occupied than ever before. Sometimes we completely forget to take care of our feet and even skip wearing footwear altogether, and that can lead to pain, besides exposing our feet to bacterial and fungal infections,” says Lambert, adding, “Footwear goes through a lot of regular wear and tear everyday and three months is a long time to go without purchasing it.”

Snacking & styling
With a rise in work from home, a good business opportunity has been born for delivery aggregators and food product brands, which are encouraging ordering of work-from-home snacks such as burgers, dosa and immunity-boosting snacks customised by restaurants. In May, Swiggy’s advertisement, in fact, asked customers to take part in a survey sharing which work-from-home snack they most preferred and based on their choice Swiggy would tell them their video call personality.

Gurugram-based manufacturer Fruit Forest, which offers a range of alternative, fruit-based snacks such as mango passion fruit pear, crispy raspberry, etc, also began advertising its snacks in May for a work-from-home routine with a tagline that reads “Work + Fruit Forest real fruit snacks = adequate energy”. It has tied up with Zomato and Swiggy to deliver the snacks for a busy remote working routine.

Even hair styling-at-home for video calls has been taken care of. Dyson, a British technology company that designs and manufactures household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, air purifiers, hand dryers, etc, has initiated a #DysonHairatHome campaign to encourage easy yet formal hair styling for video conferences at home. A sleek low bun makes for a perfect look for work calls, says Jen Atkins, global styling ambassador, Dyson. “It is a great style, allowing you to utilise the natural oils on your hair/scalp to slick the hair back, especially on video conference calls, when your hair is almost 80% of the screen. To create this style, part the hair down the middle and brush thoroughly. Take the hair back towards the nape of the neck and tie in place with a hair elastic. If you have flyaways, spray a toothbrush with hairspray and gently brush down the flyaways while using the hair dryer on the cool setting with its styling concentrator attachment for precision styling,” she says.

Dyson’s global education manager Amy Johnson shares that the feedback has been very good, with their stylists even demonstrating online hair styling for customers. Social media comes in handy at such times, says Atkins. “Instagram tutorials have become a hive of activity with stylists broadcasting tips and advice on new ways of styling, new ways to use tools and attachments. It’s been a real education,” she says.

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