“You were always late coming into the office. Now you are late even from home? How do you manage it?” asks the furious manager. “I overslept sir, like always,” replies the executive with brazen effrontery. He had logged in late for the morning video call.
The lockdown has compelled India’s corporate world to rejig not just its business projections and balance sheets but also the work culture of its employees. Suddenly, work from home (WFH) is not an option for a munificent manager to grant to his team members, but a compulsion for bosses to impose to keep the workflow rolling. And the comfort of working from home could easily lead to complacence, unless the managers could keep things under control—remotely.
“Yes it was a totally new concept for us, with offices spread across the country. Suddenly, all of us were working remotely from our homes. Only technicians who had to keep the elevators moving were on the field,” observes Amit Gossain, MD, Kone Elevators India.
Happily, the transition was smoother than Gossain expected, since everyone was digitally connected. Their results, too, have been positive, as he found his managers turning in better reports, with the planning and forecast more robust. Reason? “Their minds were fresh in the absence of hours of commute. They were more focused on the job at hand than rushing to meet clients. Similarly, even video conferences were more leisurely and productive as there was no pressure of keeping up appointments,” he discloses.
Other than being asked to be punctual for video conferences, executives were given flexible working hours with no compulsory logging in at a specified time, adds Gossain. But most firms still had to drill it into executives that WFH was not a holiday, that they had to be “available, accountable and meet deadlines”.
ZOHO, the Chennai-based software company, adopted WFH as the default, precautionary policy for all its offices worldwide from March 4. “Our 8,000-plus employees over ten countries will work from home. They are encouraged to come to offices only when necessary. We will retain this policy until the threat of the coronavirus pandemic has passed, or has reduced substantially,” the company has announced. It also offered the newly launched remote work toolkit—Remotely—for free use till July 1.
A management consultant says WFH has required executives to become digitally savvy and get a hang of Microsoft Tools, Skype, Zoom etc. “WFH puts extra pressure on women executives, who have to get household chores organised before office work. Thankfully, some firms like Capgemini, ICICI Bank, HSBC and a few retail companies have allowed their women executives to log in an hour later than others.”
The IT industry may be the biggest beneficiary of WFH, as most firms have managed to maintain their deliverable schedule. “It has also helped the IT sector to save costs, as they did not have to ferry people in buses and cars and feed them in office canteens. So they would be tempted to use the same model once things become normal. In the process, they may discover that they don’t require such huge air-conditioned office spaces, barring a few conference halls, where weekly meetings can be held,” observes R. Ganapathi, president of the South Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The downtime is also being used to ramp up training of employees. “There has been a huge demand for many of our management lectures and training modules. We see employees brush up their skills on spreadsheets and other digital tools. For elderly employees, this has been the ideal time to equip themselves digitally,” points out Vijay Kumar, executive director, Madras Management Association.
The Chennai-headquartered Murgappa Group already had a WFH policy in place for all its companies in various sectors; the number of employees under the WFH category has multiplied now. “So far, it has been smooth but transaction levels are low. Also, the first week was spent in enabling the infrastructure for the large-scale switch,” says Ramesh K.B. Menon, director of HR.
Work from home could become a huge cost-saving incentive for the IT sector since they would be staring at uncertainty in the near future due to the pandemic’s global economic impact. “Only real estate fellows who rent out their huge complexes would have to be really worried if WFH becomes the work model for the future,” notes Ganapathi.
By G.C. Shekhar in Chennai