Will India Inc. see a complete move back to office in the near future?

With public-sector employees now moving back to their offices, what does the future hold for private establishments?

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It has been about two years since the pandemic disrupted the way we work to a great extent, some may even say to an irreversible state. Businesses have had to shift the operation of their workforces from offices to remote, work-from-home settings.

The financial toll on companies that have had to abandon office buildings is significant, especially in cases where they have entered into multiple-year rental agreements. While there are significant drawbacks to remote operation, in terms of certain roles and in specific industries, for many, remote operation is working just fine. The great debate over whether to continue working from home or return to working from office has been dragging on ever since COVID norms were relaxed.

In terms of talent too, there has been a noticeable shift in preference.

Job search patterns on Naukri.com over the last six months, reveal that over 32 lakh job searches, for permanent and temporary remote jobs, were made by Indian job seekers using the new filter.

“There is a reluctance in taking up in-person roles. Employees have adopted alternate arrangements in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, and are even able to save money in doing so. Therefore, if work-from-home is revoked or they are called back to work in a hybrid way, reluctance will rear its head”

Suchismita Burman, CHRO, ITC Infotech

About 57 per cent of these searches were made for permanent remote jobs during the same time, with the highest search, that is, over 3.5 lakh being reported only in the month of December 2021.

A Nasscom Jan 2022 survey found that 70 per cent of employers are looking at a hybrid working model. This idea is further reinforced by large-scale organisations such as Microsoft and Google giving more clarity on their plans to reopen.

There is a huge demand outlined for tech talent, and industry experts share that this talent is not really keen to join back and work from a formal office space. They prefer to work remotely!

“There is a reluctance in taking up in-person roles. Employees have adopted alternate arrangements in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, and are even able to save money in doing so. Therefore, if work-from-home is revoked or they are called back to work in a hybrid way, reluctance will rear its head,” Suchismita Burman, CHRO, ITC Infotech, tells HRKatha.

Since opportunities are abundant for techies, they are more inclined to jump ship, which will be the case for many companies that are reopening offices.

“A cumulative measure sort of approach to bring people back to work will not work. All organisations will then need to mandate not taking the work-from-home route, which is not possible. This is because, there is an obvious difference in approach, and some organisations would want to continue their current work models. If WFH is revoked or the hybrid way is called for, people will look to switch to other organisations,” Burman opines.

While companies may have to adhere to remote operations for a foreseeable future, there are some obvious drawbacks associated with that approach. In such settings, one does not really experience an organisation culture, Burman explains. “The psychological contract, which is of essence to ensure everyone is aligned with the company’s mission is highly compromised in a remote setting,” she adds. She also points out that remote operation has acted as a sort of catalyst to the Great Resignation, as association with the company and loyalty to the brand is dampened to an extent.

“The decision of the Centre to call back their employees will influence the private sector, which will eventually follow suit. This movement will also give a boost not only to the economy but also to the various dependent factors associated with reopening offices”

Amit Sachdev, CPO, Tata iQ

Burman elaborates that companies need to accept the reality that has unfurled over the past couple of years and try to find a balance between the future of their workplace and their employees.

“It is about the choices that one makes. A company needs to identify what can be done to strengthen the relation between the employees and the organisation in such a setting. However, this requires continuous work,” she admits.

According to Burman, organisations need to figure out what is working for them at the moment and what is not. They must recognise early warnings and be nimble in their adaptations to deal with certain trends that may actually grow. “One needs to democratise the whole way the organisation is run, making individuals more responsible at the grassroots level. Introduction of rewards is a good way to ensure employees’ loyalty. While these matrices are generally linked to the senior level, linking them to junior levels is the way forward to drive commitment,” she said.

Amit Sachdev, CPO, Tata iQ, holds a different view. He believes there is no reluctance in reopening the workplace and going on the path of pre-pandemic normalcy. Rather, the current situation presents a dilemma, both for the key talent and the employer. One of the factors responsible for this, is the rebranding of the pandemic as endemic, which some European countries have actually done. Officiating an actual move away from the pandemic like this would propel companies to reopen their offices.

Another factor Sachdev points out is that the Indian government’s decision to call the employees back to office is a game changer in terms of the workforce and culture.

“The decision of the Centre to call back their employees will influence the private sector, which will eventually follow suit. This movement will also give a boost not only to the economy but also to the various dependent factors associated with reopening offices,” he points out.

In the transition back to office, Sachdev foresees corporates initially exploring a hybrid environment — where talent is asked to relocate to the work location and operate in a hybrid setting from the office locations. Further, some businesses he feels would explore setting up workspaces in tier-III & IV cities. These co-working spaces will help companies reduce moonlighting issues, and productivity will also improve.

“It is difficult to run an insurance company in a hybrid setup. We need our sales and tech teams to be present at work simultaneously for more efficient communication. However, we allow our employees freedom and flexibility to work from whichever office facility they prefer”

Amrit Jaidka Arora, head – HR, Digit Insurance

Moving to co-working spaces and remote offices is an emerging trend in the industry. However, enforcing a complete back- to-office for companies with thousands of employees in India is still not a widely-seen phenomenon. Digit Insurance is one such company that has got all its employees back to working from the physical office space.

Amrit Jaidka Arora, head – HR, Digit Insurance, tells HRKatha that Digit’s 2,600-strong workforce has completely shifted to working from office.

“It is difficult to run an insurance company in a hybrid setup. We need our sales and tech teams to be present at work simultaneously for more efficient communication. However, we allow our employees freedom and flexibility to work from whichever office facility they prefer,” shares Arora.

Digit has focused on building an environment where the employees have consistent access to information, which helps them function from any of the Company’s main offices or co-working spaces.

However, Digit does not believe in offering a permanent hybrid model to its employees. Arora reveals that about 50 per cent of the Company’s staff comprises sales personnel who cannot work remotely. It would be unfair to call the salesforce to the office, while the rest of the workforce operates remotely.

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