Working 100% from the office may well be history even as Covid Ebbs

When the COVID-induced lockdowns began in 2020, businesses faced an unprecedented crisis and rushed to rethink work boundaries almost overnight. As deaths increased and infections spread rapidly in enclosed spaces, working from home (WFH) was a difficult arrangement that managements had to adopt despite initial technological constraints.

Whenever infections waned, companies tried to move employees back to formal offices, but the emergence of new variants of COVID marred those plans, giving way to a new normal. Going to the office or working from home has become a decision guided by the COVID curve, corresponding government guidelines and employee comfort. A balance had to be struck, given the uncertainties about how the virus might behave.

The new era of work has its advantages and disadvantages, for both employees and employers. For employees, especially in large cities, this easily saved 2-3 hours of daily commuting, as well as savings in transportation costs. Many returned to their hometowns, saving on rent, others were able to pursue hobbies they hadn’t been able to pursue before, spend more time with family, care for aging parents, shop stocks and crypto, and for the enterprising, taking a part-time job without the knowledge of their employer.

It has also worked well for businesses, which have been able to get their staff to work more, in some cases lower monthly stipends and, more importantly, save a hefty amount on rent.

With the pullback of the third wave of COVID, employees and employers are grappling with the same set of questions: 100% Work From Office? 100% work from home? Hybrid model?

Take a borderless approach

Many companies – such as Tata Steel and Meesho and global companies like Meta, Twitter and Microsoft – have trashed the age-old norm of calling everyone to the office and opening their hearts to let their staff work from their living rooms.

As well as letting employees choose to work from anywhere up to 365 days a year, Tata Steel is building digital clones of its factories. The company has started a pilot project in Jamshedpur where staff can access the control room anywhere.

“This policy is a mindset shift from monitoring to creating a work culture based on trust and results,” said Suresh Dutt Tripathi, Vice President, Human Resource Management, Tata Steel.

Meesho said the company considered several future working models to arrive at “the borderless approach”. “It will also give talent around the world an opportunity to build for Bharat with Meesho,” said Ashish Kumar Singh, Meesho’s HR Director.

Test the hybrid model

Most other companies are looking to adopt a hybrid work environment and insist that not all functions can be performed remotely.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), one of India’s largest private sector employers and the fourth-largest employer among listed companies, is keen to see its campuses bursting with youthful energy in the coming months.

Milind Lakkad, Director of Human Resources, TCS, said that since the COVID situation is improving, the company will bring its employees back to the office. Yet no more than 25% of their associates would work from a desk at the same time.

“We are committed to adopting the 25×25 model. An important part of the 25×25 journey is getting people back into physical offices and gradually transitioning to the hybrid work model,” Lakkad said.

Rival IT company Wipro will also take a flexible approach. “From March 3, fully vaccinated employees who are managers and above will have the option of returning to work twice a week. We will continue to expand the work-from-home device for others,” Wipro said.

“Full force in power is history”

HR managers now say having a dedicated workplace and expecting employees to operate from there is a “thing of the past”. In part, this trend may have been forced by talent in many industries, especially IT, and the fact that many employees now insist that they be allowed to work wherever they want. With many companies willing to offer this flexibility, employers who take a rigid approach may find themselves at a disadvantage.

“Work-life balance has improved and people have new hobbies etc. They don’t want to change that lifestyle now,” said Rajendran Dandapani, CTO of Zoho Corp.

Agree with Ashwini Kumar, Managing Director (India) and Vice President, MPOWER Financing.

“We have seen a strong demand for working from home from our employees, said, adding that there are no immediate plans for a full-fledged return to the office, as performance and productivity do not were not affected.

Sameer Bendre, director of human resources at Persistent Systems, says the pandemic has changed how employees view work, but there must also be a balance.

“WFH’s flexibility has raised employee expectations,” he said. “But organizations would love to have WFO employees. It has benefits ranging from team camaraderie, employee engagement, better innovation, etc. Golden mean, i.e. partial WFO – WFH balance.”

It’s a balance that IVM Podcasts also seeks to achieve, given that the nature of the work requires it.

“Some of our employees will continue to work at WFH if they prefer,” said Kavita Rajwade, co-founder. “However, certain functions in our business require a high degree of collaboration and technical support,” IVM Podcasts said.

Incentives for the resumption of jobs on site

Some companies offer incentives to employees who want to return to work from their desks.

Sapna Sukumar, vice president of human resources at Cashfree Payments, said they have a hybrid working model. Yet they “facilitate relocation” through benefits such as relocation leave, hotel accommodations, airfare, relocation reimbursements, etc., for those wishing to return to the environment. formal work.

Employees are also forcing organizations to offer flexibility, time-based work, contract work, etc.

As employees view their working lives in a new light, employers are forced to follow suit.

“There was a time when coming to the office was the only way to establish that you were really working,” said Pia Shome, chief human resources officer, U GRO Capital. We were all forced to let go of that notion when the pandemic taught us that from hiring new people, training them, getting new clients and opening branches, anything was possible online,” a- she declared.

And it’s obvious that companies are trying to adapt to the new reality.

“We have invested heavily in upgrading our systems to better prepare for long-term hybrid working,” said Amir Bharwani, human resources manager at eClerx Services.

What do employee surveys say?

Cisco undertook an internal survey and found that nearly 80% of its global workforce preferred to work out of the office most of the time.

“The move to remote work hasn’t been a challenge for Cisco. However, the pandemic period has revealed how productive teams can be without being in the same room, perhaps ever,” said Minhaj Zia, Director of Collaboration Sales, Cisco India & SAARC. “So we’ve definitely moved to a hybrid working model.”

According to an internal survey conducted by Provana, about 45% of their employees were ready to work from the office. Still, Dipankar Kalita, HR manager at Provana, said the company is following the hybrid model to give freedom to its employees.

Retain cost savings

Zoho Corp’s Dandapani says he also realized that one size doesn’t fit all.

He said companies wanted to get back to where they were in 2019, but were also looking at the benefits of hybrid working, in addition to cost savings.

“We are still debating the right formula, like everyone around the world,” he said, adding, “we expect our managers to use common sense when making decisions about this.” .

Rethinking the future of offices

“We are opening offices on Monday, but we continue to be mostly hybrid,” said Suman Gopalan, director of human resources at FreshWorks. “What haven’t we done?” Forcing people to make a choice.

Gopalan said 50% of his staff want to return to duty in October 2020. But nearly 16 months later, the sentiment is changing. “A lot of people are bored of working from home,” he said.

The firm is now considering a hub strategy.

“We had big offices. Looking at how talent is distributed now, we’re trying to create hubs in certain parts of the country where employees can get experience in the office,” Gopalan said, adding that the policy was changing.

And while office rent savings are a big factor, some companies seem to go above and beyond.

“Corporate occupiers are looking to bring their workforce back to the office to cope with the significant increase in hiring, up around 20%, and to counter the increased attrition caused, in part, by the disconnection of the workplace,” said Michael Holland, CEO. , Embassy REIT, said.

“There have also been concerns about data privacy and moonlighting, which leads to the misuse of productive time.”

(With contributions from Reema Tendulkar, Shilpa Ranipeta and Jude Sannith)