*****In struggle to get employees back to office; companies tread cautiously | Business Standard News

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In some small companies and mid-cap IT services, 20-30 per cent of people are already back in office, especially in areas where heavy engineering and design concepts are required


Aware of employees’ disinclination to work from office, companies across sectors are treading cautiously.

A mass resignation reported at Mumbai-based coding startup WhiteHat Jr after it asked its employees to get back to office within a month has put the spotlight on a massive problem confronting India Inc: Employees simply don’t want to return to office full time.

Take the case of Mathew Philip (name changed on request). The pandemic, says Philip, made him realise that he’d rather be with his family in Kerala than hold on to his high-paying job in a metro. The birth of his second child during the peak of Covid in 2021 convinced him further that he wanted to work from home (WFH) — or at least from his hometown.

So, when his employer, a Bengaluru-headquartered information technology (IT) major, asked him to return to office, Philip quit and joined a UK-based company.

“People have given up their rented apartments in cities where their offices are, and have moved their children to schools in their hometowns. They are saving on rent and school fee, which is less in smaller cities, and are also getting to take care of their ageing parents,” says Rahul Dennis (name changed), a senior IT professional. “Many,” he adds, “are even moonlighting for multiple companies; they’ll get caught if they return to office.”

Aware of employees’ disinclination to work from office, companies across sectors are treading cautiously.

In June 2020, Chennai-based fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) player CavinKare had, for instance, announced that it was going to rent out its corporate office and that its 300-odd employees might WFH permanently.

Nearly two years on, CavinKare’s corporate office is still in WFH mode, but with physical meetings once in 15 days. “This is vital for new employees to understand the work culture of CavinKare,” says Venkatesh Vijayaraghavan, the firm’s chief executive officer and director. However, whether these meetings would be compulsory or not has been left to group leaders. The staff at CavinKare’s factories and research and development (R&D) centres is, however, operating from location.

Over at TCS, India’s largest IT service provider, the goal is 25/25 — 25 per cent of all emp-loyees working from home by 2025. But before that, the company, in a media conference post its Q4FY22 results, said employees will first need to be back in office.

“We are confident about the 25/25 model, but it has to be implemented in a structured way. At present, we are operating at 95/5 model (95 per cent working remotely). We need to get back to a more normal model like 80/20 or so before we start the migration,” says Rajesh Gopinathan, CEO and MD, TCS.

So, since April, senior associates of TCS — some 50,000 of them — have been in office three days a week. TCS expects to achieve the 80/20 ratio by mid-2022.

Infosys, where almost 95 per cent of employees are working from home, has a three-phase back-to-office plan. “In the first phase (rolled out in April), people who are in or near a city that has a development centre (DC) are being asked to return to office twice a week,” says Nilanjan Roy, chief financial officer, Infosys. “Senior leaders are already coming in and hav-ing huddles and group meetings.”

Phase 2 will involve getting people who live outside cities with a DC to return. “This will depend on individual circumstances,” says Roy. Phase 3 will involve the shift to a hybrid model over a period of time. “This will depend on clients, regulatory environment and other considerations.”

In some small companies and mid-cap IT services, 20-30 per cent of people are already back in office, especially in areas where heavy engineering and design concepts are required.

Wipro, at its media conference call, said it has asked its employees to come into office three times a week. While people like to work from home, “they also like to come to the office because they’re missing the social connect with the rest of the team. And we encourage that. We want the model to be hybrid,” said Thierry Delaporte, CEO, Wipro.

HCL Technologies, meanwhile, has identified 40-50 per cent of employees who can work from home permanently.

Top Indian unicorns, too, are thinking out of the box to ease employees back into office life.

“We have taken a conscious call of asking our workforce to return to offices, across locati-ons,” says Mayank Kumar, co-founder and MD of edtech unicorn upGrad. “While profe-ssionals have learned faster ways of operating virtually, there is no denying the repercussions of severe online fatigue that had set in.”

Kumar says lack of on-ground team-building exercises, breaks, face-to-face brainstorming and feedback sessions took away the personal touch from conversations, thereby impacting employee engagement. Since these factors help employees build a sense of ownership towards the brand and accelerate confidence, upGrad introduced ways for employees to engage with one another before starting to work from the office.

“We arranged off-sites for the upGrad marketing, finance and administrative teams across destinations in Maharashtra,” says Kumar. These involved outdoor group activities like trekking, rappelling, games, strategy sessions and team-building exercises. The result? “We observed employees engaging organically with each other on the office floor,” says Kumar.

To address logistical issues, upGrad set up offices across multiple locations in multiple cities, thereby allowing the workforce to choose their preferred work location.

Edtech unicorn Vedantu, which has moved to a more spacious office in Bellandur, a suburb in south-east Bengaluru, is letting employees choose the days and times they wish to attend office. They can also bring in their kids, who can browse the Vedantu library or play in the children’s area.

“Several employees were worried about returning to Bengaluru and fighting the traffic woes. While we cannot do much about that, we have covered their relocation expenses, no questions asked,” says a Vedantu spokesperson.

SoftBank-backed Unacademy’s core team began working from office in March 2022 on a roster. “The sales and operations teams, which is a large majority of the organisation in terms of employee strength, continues to work remotely as we see better efficiencies through this,” says a spokesperson of the edtech firm. All employees have the option of working from home on some days of the week.

Manufacturing companies, meanwhile, continued to work full strength at their plants even during peak Covid. “We are now mulling a five-day week, at least for two weeks in a month, not just at our corporate office but even at the manufacturing locations,” says Pankaj Lochan, chief human resources officer, Jindal Steel & Power. “This is not an aftereffect of Covid but because we are endeavouring to be a great place to work.”

At ITC, employees may WFH for up to two days in a week, subject to approval. In case of an exigency, WFH is allowed for up to 15 days in a month.

Amitav Mukherji, head, corporate human resources, ITC, says where the role permits, the company allows “a hybrid work model for employees, additional flexibility in work arrangements for expectant and young mothers, extended maternity and child care leave, travel support for infant and caregiver during business travel by women employees, paternity leave and extension of medical benefits to same gender partners”.

In November 2020, Tata Steel introduced an “Agile Working Models” policy as a pilot project for one year. Under this policy, the job positions are tagged under two models: Absolute WFH, wherein the employee can work from any location in India; and Flexi WFH, wherein even the officers who are required to be based out of a particular location can WFH for unlimited days in a year.

“About 15 per cent of the white-collar profiles in Tata Steel are working from home,” says a spokesperson, “and about 5 per cent have the flexibility to be location-agnostic… hence attendance at office varies across departments and locations.”

Given the popularity of the policy, Tata Steel has decided to continue with it even post-pandemic.

The New Workplace

CavinKare: WFH, but with physical meetings once in 15 days

TCS: Senior associates back in office thrice a week; IT major expects to achieve 80/20 ratio (80% WFH) by mid-2022

Infosys: 3-phase back-to-office plan

Wipro: Employees asked to come to office thrice a week

HCL: Identified 40-50% employees who can WFH permanently

upGrad: Employee engagement activities before starting work from office

Vedantu: Employees can bring kids to work; is covering relocation cost

Unacademy: Core team working from office on a roster; sales and operations teams working remotely

JSPL: Mulling five-day week, at least for 2 weeks a month

ITC: Employees may WFH for up to 2 days in a week

Tata Steel: Continuing with “Agile Working Models” policy

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