Reopening the workspace: How to bring employees back willingly

Most employees will find a way to get what they want, and seek flexibility, even if it means switching jobs

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With ‘return to office’ gaining momentum in India due to the increased vaccinations, things are finally heading towards normalcy. For the working population, normalcy entails heading back to the workplaces, which have been opening and shutting down repeatedly, depending on the intensity of the pandemic in the last year and a half. However, as offices move towards reopening, motivating employees to return is proving to be far from easy.

A US-based survey conducted by Blind, which sampled 3,000 employees from top-tier companies, including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, found that employees prefer to permanently work from home than get a $30,000-a-year-raise. A good 64 per cent of the respondents said they would prefer to continue operating from home.

“It could be reasoned that working from office would be better for their future subroles or promotions. Their daily productivity may also be linked to the annual increment. Hence, their output, which is better from office, will dictate their career growth, promotions and annual increments”

Pankaj Lochan, CHRO, Jindal Steel and Power

Motivate employees with incentives

The onus of motivating employees to return to office may lie with the company itself. Along this line, a Japanese manufacturing company, Disco Corp., set up a system by which those working remotely deposit a certain amount of their salary into a fund, which gets divided amongst the employees who come in to work from their office.

In India, some smaller companies are reportedly offering their employees salary hikes to return to their pre-pandemic workspace. In order to understand whether such a monetary incentivisation could work for a larger organisation, HRKatha contacted Pankaj Lochan, CHRO, Jindal Steel and Power.

Lochan, who oversees a workforce of about 39,000, believes that such a strategy will not be sustainable for a company of such a size. He, however, suggests that employees can be reasoned to return to office by the company if their output or productivity is significantly better while operating from the physical office. “It could be reasoned that working from office would be better for their future subroles or promotions. Their daily productivity may also be linked to the annual increment. Hence, their output, which is better from office, will dictate their career growth, promotions and annual increments,” he says.

“For Emami Agrotech, being a very hardcore FMCG, production-driven operation, we weren’t considering work from home as a continued policy. Now, however, we have been able to develop a sound mechanism. Hence, we put out a policy for permanent work from home for certain identified roles, where output isn’t compromised”

Maneesha Jha Thakur, president-HR, Emami

For Lochan, managing employees while working from home isn’t really an option, since Jindal Steel is a manufacturing company. For companies where it is a factor, he suggests that annual increments could be made to vary upon the employee’s preference. For instance, if employees opt to work from home, and hence their net output is reduced, their appraisal would be in the five per cent bracket. Those who work from office, could get an appraisal in the 10 per cent bracket.

Any shift has to be gradual

For Maneesha Jha Thakur, president-HR, Emami, working remotely after the pandemic wasn’t a policy change that the Company’s agrotech initiative was considering to continue. However, since the mechanism for remote work was smoothened over the last year or so, they have decided to move forward with it. “For Emami Agrotech, being a very hardcore FMCG, production-driven operation, we weren’t considering work from home as a continued policy. Now, however, since a year has passed, we have been able to develop a sound mechanism. Hence, we put out a policy for permanent work from home for certain identified roles, where output isn’t compromised,” she says. However, she believes that the shift to remote operation has to be gradual for a company. Hence, working from office once or twice a week is something that Emami is considering to do as part of the transition.

Employees have welcomed the hybrid approach and feel motivated by the work-life balance, convenience in terms of commute as well as face to face connect with colleagues it provides, Jha suggest.

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Abhijit Bhaduri

“People who are not in favour of rejoining office and prefer to continue remote work will have two options, to change their role within the company, or seek a job in another company”

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers & Unicorn

Talent will find its own space

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers & Unicorn believes that the process of reopening will lead to a major rejig. People who are not in favour of rejoining office and prefer to continue remote work will have two options, to change their role within the company, or seek a job in another company. In other words, talent will find its own space. Therefore, a reshuffle is inevitable.

“Suppose I move to a remote location, or for personal reasons am unable to work from office — I’d have to figure out ways to manage my work remotely and still deliver. If my employer feels that work can’t be done remotely, I’d have to look for an organisation, which allows me to work from home. So, I’d have to change the role or the employer in order to continue working remotely,” he explains.

Companies can, however, look at increasing the salary of employees for office work, if the differential to find and train a replacement for the employee is high.

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