Staggered work shifts? Maybe, maybe not

Even while initiatives are being launched to sensitise corporate India to move towards staggered work shifts, whether the proposal can really be uniformly implemented across industries remains to be seen.

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If you ask an average Mumbaikar what he dislikes most about his day, the answer you will probably get is his daily struggle to get to work on time using public transport. The return is no less challenging. Whether you take the train, bus, or cab, or drive your own vehicle to work, the ‘rush hour’ in the morning and in the evening, as you head back home, is something you will wish to do without.

Media reports recently suggested that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is contemplating to get offices in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) of Mumbai to introduce staggered shifts to ease the pressure on traffic in the area. For the uninitiated, BKC in Mumbai is a hub that houses corporate offices of some of the most well-known organisations in the country. Naturally, the area is a traffic nightmare during office hours.

Traffic snarls and rush hour madness are not problems unique to BKC alone, nor to only Mumbai. A trip attempted in the Delhi Metro at Rajiv Chowk or an UberPool ride to Whitefield in Bengaluru in the peak hours are punishments you will wish for your worst enemy.

According to a report by The Times of India earlier this year, office travel time in Bengaluru went up by six per cent (an increase of three minutes one way) in the year to the first quarter of 2018. The article cited estimates by MoveInSync, an office commute automation platform, and states how in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru, around three to four minutes per kilometre are spent by office commuters on the road. In Pune and Hyderabad, it is two to three minutes per kilometre.

Amit Singh

We cannot have staggered work timings in an investments team (fund managers, dealers etc.). We cannot have a fund manager or a dealer coming in at 11 am. This may be true, more or less, for all financial organisations.”

These statistics are alarming. They force you to wonder how much time of your life you are spending trying to get to work and back.

The Mumbai Mayhem

MMRDA’s suggestion that stems from the belief that conditions in BKC are only going to get worse with further development, may be ideal, but is it really feasible? Staggered timings when a section of the workforce begins its day at 8 a.m. and another at noon is worth a shot, but can this solution be implemented uniformly across businesses?

Consider the example of the financial sector. Offices of some of the leading banks and financial services companies are located in BKC. Think ICICI Bank, Citibank, Bank of Baroda, SBI Funds Management and some more. Are we really considering an option wherein employees of these organisations begin their day at noon? Might be a challenge.
Amit Singh, head – human resources, SBI Mutual Fund agrees. ‘We cannot have staggered work timings in an investments team (fund managers, dealers etc.). We cannot have a fund manager or a dealer coming in at 11 am. This may be true, more or less, for all financial organisations,’ he says.
Make no mistake, companies are not unsympathetic to the problems faced by commuters. Singh mentions how for the employees at SBI Mutual Fund’s corporate office in BKC, the working hours are flexible. Employees can come in between 8 am and 10 am and have to complete the minimum stipulated number of working hours (nine hours). However, one must consider that investment teams and certain other critical roles in operations and sales have to work according to the working hours of the financial markets and the bourses that open between 9 am to 10 am.
Amit Vaish

The larger you are, the more distributed you are, and the more challenging it is going to get. In domestic banks that are largely focussed on the Indian market, for investment bankers or traders who are aligning themselves to the Bombay Stock Exchange or the National Stock Exchange, working hours cannot be changed. They need to be trading actively.

While one might even think an arrangement like this can be made possible for functions that are not dependent on such rigid timings, eventually, all functions work together and are inter-dependent.
‘Let’s consider HR itself. If you have a certain number of employees who have already come to office by 9 am, you cannot have an HR function not present. You cannot have administration or finance functions not present either. Support functions mirror the business,’ explains Singh.
And this is just the story of the corporate office. Consider the several branches of SBI Mutual Fund across the city and the country, those that have to open at a fixed time for their customers and many might not be able to introduce a rostering mechanism as a daily schedule.
Mangesh Bhide

We have offices called Jio Centres. These are the smallest physical units available. Employees are allowed to log in from these Jio Centres, in situations that so demand. They may not be required to come to their home office locations. Of course, it has to be pre-approved.

‘The larger you are, the more distributed you are, and the more challenging it is going to get. In domestic banks that are largely focussed on the Indian market, for investment bankers or traders who are aligning themselves to the Bombay Stock Exchange or the National Stock Exchange, working hours cannot be changed. They need to be trading actively,’ says Amit Vaish, director and head-HR, Barclays Technology.

The Barclays head office in Mumbai is not located in BKC, but in Worli, which is yet another busy section of the city. Having said that, Worli isn’t alien to traffic snarls either.

The concern is not just about the financial market hours. There are ample examples of companies where teams have to work in tandem with their global counterparts in the West. Coordination then becomes extremely important when you want to match working hours with those in other countries.

‘Moving to shift working needs considerable thought. It requires a company-by-company, almost a role-by-role, individual-by-individual discussion to get to a place where it can be done smoothly without any adverse impact on productivity or employee engagement,’ says Vaish.

The Concerned Employer

Organisations were never insensitive to the issues faced by their employees.

Both Vaish and Singh mention how their respective companies allow for flexible working hours. Striving to maintain a healthy work–life balance is a priority that is given its due importance.

‘We have a dynamic working programme that offers a range of options to employees who want to avail of flexible working. In some cases, this also means an amendment to the employment contract to enable the employee’s expectations of flexible working. This is greatly appreciated by our colleagues because it helps to meet the purpose of work–life balance,’ says Vaish.

He adds though that this depends a lot on the role of an employee in an organisation as well. The flexibility is offered provided the work is not impacted negatively.

Mangesh Bhide, HR head-technology, Reliance Jio Infocomm talks of a smart way devised in his organisation.

‘We have offices called Jio Centres. These are the smallest physical units available. Employees are allowed to log in from these Jio Centres, in situations that so demand. They may not be required to come to their home office locations. Of course, it has to be pre-approved,’ he says.

Earlier this year, the India Chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA) launched an initiative called ‘Work to Live to Work’. The initiative is spearheaded by Nandini Dias, chief executive officer, Lodestar UM India and managing committee member of IAA-India Chapter. The initiative was launched basically to sensitise decision makers in organisations towards the benefits of flexible working hours, a concept corporate India is certainly warming up to.

The daily grind, the rat race, call it what you may, but the key is to strike that sweet spot between convenience and productive working hours. A one-size-fits-all suggestion will require some more thought.

(The views expressed by Mangesh Bhide and Amit Singh are their personal and doesn’t reflect the views of their organisations.)

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