TODAY -

Both work & working are important, whether from office, home or anywhere

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *



Just imagine what would have happened to the world if a pandemic like COVID-19 had hit us when there was no high-speed internet and sundry other technologies that support instant, voice, and video communications ? Total chaos and devastation -unlike now with technology playing its part in coming to our rescue.

At its height, the world witnessed shutdowns in early and mid-2020 that threw several people out of jobs, but slowly the recovery began and gathered pace due to the technology that enables the reach of goods and services faster than ever before. Largely it is the presence of high-speed internet and the work environment it enables that is responsible for saving many jobs and help revive the economy along.

Whichever sector, largely services, that can be offered online and allow remote working have beaten the pandemic induced shutdowns and consequent pain that it brings.

The one thing good that has emerged out of the pandemic, so far, is the concept of work from home and work from anywhere, which have revealed to the world that with a little bit of trust, understanding and commitment, it is a more efficient work environment that has led to an increase in productivity as well.

For the management, it has been a discovery that the workers were working more hours, in fact using the time they saved in commuting as well for delivering more output - of course with the rider that the workers value their job and livelihood and that they would be trying hard to retain it by performing at their best.

It is not that this is a new concept - several people have been working from home even in pre-pandemic days. Except that the pandemic has made it mandatory, for the companies and their workers, to explore this as a viable option. Once both sides have discovered the pluses of the WFH/WFA, even after a Coronavirus vaccine drives away the pandemic, the new work scenario could become permanent, as some companies have indicated already.

Leading the pack in India is IT major, Infosys, which has indicated that 33 percent to 50 percent of its staff could be given a permanent work from home option. Several other IT firms are also contemplating this idea as its pluses are many. Firstly, the need to maintain huge office infrastructure is eliminated and there would be savings galore on rental expenditure and running expenditure.

In Bangalore and Hyderabad, big IT firms have vacated several offices and reduced office space as most of their employees were given work from home options in the wake of pandemic induced shutdown and the slow reopening guidelines of maintaining social distancing norms. Going forward, postpandemic, there could be a new trend of re-configuring workspaces.

There is an estimate that office space leasing could slowdown as companies rethink their office needs. The situation promises to be one for companies wanting less physical workspace and more digital workspace option.

For the employees, there will be no commuting cost - in terms of money as also in terms of huge stress driving and commuting in big cities - and they also save time and energy that they can devote to office work, and or personal work that they were unable to tend to earlier.

Work from home or work from anywhere has already, in a small way, resulted in decongesting big cities with several workers given work from home opportunity leaving big cities for their own homes in smaller towns and villages, thus saving on rentals. I know for sure, many families in Hyderabad have shifted out of the city after vacating their rented residential premises and moved out to their respective small towns and villages.

It helps that Andhra Pradesh has high internet penetration and supports even village level BPO operations in some districts. For any WFH/WFA situation to work effectively and efficiently, the management worker relation has to be at its best with mutual trust and cooperation, so that it works well for both sides.

Talk to anyone who is working from home, after the initial teething troubles and adjustment blues are over, they will confirm that they are working more and delivering more output than they were doing when working from their respective offices. It is not for nothing that many big firms and MNCs operating in India have announced the extension of WFH/WFA till mid next year as the schedule of availability of a vaccine for COVID-19 is still yet uncertain.

Another IT major, TCS has announced that by 2025, 75 percent of its workforce will be working from home. Other companies are also hopeful that at least half of their employees would be working from home in the future as well, post-pandemic. At present, IT major Infosys has just 5 percent of its workforce going to the office, and even after the pandemic is over, the majority of the staff would be working from home.

Already, the trend has caught on, and several mental barriers relating to work from home have been broken - whether it was productivity or efficiency of the workers working from home. Global majors like Facebook, Twitter, Google have asked employees to WFH permanently till the end of this year, and may extend this facility if overall health situation does not improve.

In India, the Government has also realized the new phenomenon is of value to the employee and the employers and has come out with simplification of guidelines to facilitate permanent Work from Home and Work from Anywhere initiative for the technology industry.

The new rules for Other Service Providers' (OSPs), which includes BPOs, KPOs, ITES, call center among others would remove frequent reporting and other obligations and would create an amicable environment for both companies and employees. The new rules do away with the registration requirement for OSPs, while the BPO industry engaged in data-related work has been taken out of the ambit of these regulations.

Under the modified guidelines, the requirements such as deposit of bank guarantees, the requirement for static IPs, the publication of network diagrams, and penal provisions have also been removed. Similarly, several other requirements, which prevented companies from adopting 'Work from Home' and 'Work from Anywhere' policies have also been removed.

These, it is expected, will ensure a conducive environment for growth and innovations in the IT sector, whose prowess in the world is recognized today. The IT industry, of course, is elated at these new guidelines that will allow it to bring more work into India on a scale it has not been able to do before.

The relaxations in WFH regulations will help companies tap into talent from small towns and remote parts of the country, as well. This works well for the workers as well as the companies.


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 27 2020.



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