WFH Works, But Offices Will Reopen Cautiously


MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: The concept of work-from-home (WFH), which served India Inc meaningfully during the lockdown, is expected to morph into a more robust hybrid model in the new year. This would particularly be the case as the availability of Covid-19 vaccines becomes prevalent and a credible shield starts building up against the dreaded virus. Most organisations believe that a hybrid work model, which is a mix of physical and remote working, will be the flavour of 2021.

When the lockdown was announced in March this year, organisations were forced to quickly deploy WFH, in whichever manner possible, as they scrambled to cover against the spread of the virus. After a brief struggle, the entire process has now led to a permanent shift in mindsets about how work can happen more productively.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has nudged us towards a transformation we never knew could be achieved in such a short span of time. It has completely changed the way we live and how we work,” said Keshav Murugesh, group CEO, WNS . “Our organisational culture has always been people-centred, and yet, we realised that these extraordinary times called for even more extraordinary measures,” said Murugesh.

From a location perspective, WNS has put in place a hybrid work model that will be called the ‘hub, spoke and edge’. This will be a blend of work that will be done in the office (hub), from home (edge), and satellite offices where employees will meet to discuss key agenda/bond with colleagues and keep the organisational fabric alive (spoke).

Amit Prakash, CHRO, Marico, said, “As we move into 2021, we at Marico will slowly begin working from offices across the country during the first few months, while following the strictest social distancing and hygiene norms set out by the government.”

This would be undertaken in conjunction with Marico’s business continuity teams, wherein the firm will take into account transportation and other constraints of members. In the interim, said Prakash, Marico has begun exploring and implementing a hybrid WFH and work from the office model. Infosys, too, has reportedly said they will follow a hybrid model. A hybrid model offers employees the choice of work option. Such empowerment, said HR experts, would enable a more agile workplace culture, leading to better productivity.

“Our members will have the liberty to choose the rotations with which they would like to work from the office, and we aim to continue this further in the coming year. We believe that, by offering our members the flexibility in work, we would be able to offset any potential fatigue that could arise while working from home on a prolonged basis. Hence, we are quite optimistic about the hybrid way of working,” said Prakash of Marico.

In alignment with the new normal, WNS has also introduced a hybrid people model — with full-time, temporary contract and gig workers. “A different approach and mindset to workforce operations will be called for in the unfolding 2021 — a flatter and more empowered hierarchy,” said Murugesh.

Is it time to bid WFH goodbye?

Not everyone is in a hurry to ask employees to start getting back to the office, even though the willingness to get back to their office desks is equally strong among a section of the people. Many employees of RPG Enterprises are keen to get back to the workplace. This is mainly to interact with colleagues. “When we’re convinced that getting back will not compromise on their safety in any way, we shall open up. At that time, our earlier announced WFH policy will continue to apply as a choice given to employees to work remotely if they wanted to,” said Supratik Bhattacharyya, chief talent officer, RPG Enterprises.

From September 1 this year, RPG Enterprises came up with a WFH policy for employees across locations and geographies, spanning offices, IT campuses, manufacturing locations, project sites, plantations, estates and any other work locations of all RPG Group companies.

Sumit Mitra, head-group HR and corporate services, Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies, said remote working will continue for jobs that can be fully accomplished from home. “For other essential roles, our team members continue to work from our manufacturing units and offices following all safety protocols. We will closely follow and review the government guidelines across states in India, and will be flexible to change our policies based on how the situation unfolds,” said Mitra.

At Tech Mahindra, associates currently have the freedom to work from home

 (almost 90% currently do) or work from office/client location. “In the long term, we expect 25-30% associates continuing to work from home, on an ongoing basis,” said Harshvendra Soin, global chief people officer & head of marketing, Tech Mahindra. On the other hand, Siemens has established mobile working as a core component of its ‘new normal’ and will make it a permanent standard, both during the global pandemic and beyond. “The aim is to enable employees worldwide to work on a mobile basis for an average of two-three days a week, whenever reasonable and feasible,” said a Siemens spokesperson.

Here, mobile working explicitly means more than just working from home. Instead, employees — in consultation with their supervisors — are to choose the work locations where they’re most productive. Work-in-person at the office is to supplement mobile working as appropriate. “The forward-looking mobile working model will be associated with a leadership style that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office,” said the spokesperson.

Worldwide surveys of Siemens employees confirmed their desire for greater flexibility and for personalised solutions when it comes to deciding where they work.

Bhattacharyya of RPG said, the firm has adapted these lessons to the way people work, both digital and behavioural. “As an organisation ethos, we’ve always laid emphasis on output, which hasn’t dipped at all. In fact, we’ve often been pleasantly surprised on how much our people have delivered during these difficult times,” added Bhattacharyya.

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