Has the work-from-home honeymoon ended? – CNBCTV18 - Freelance Rack

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Thursday, June 25, 2020

Has the work-from-home honeymoon ended? – CNBCTV18

It may have caught the fancy of some big names in the IT sector, but the work from home (WFH) model may not be sustainable, purely from a practical and psychological standpoint. Three months into the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 24, several tech firms — some of which were among the first to roll out blanket WFH models even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic — are saying that some of their employees want to return to the regular work environment.

‘Some employees want to get back to the office’

“We ran a survey and found out that 10 percent of our employees want to get back to the office,” said Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO, Zoho, adding, “The lack of human interaction is a problem — there’s something about face-to-face interaction that can’t be replaced.”

It’s a similar story at rival Freshworks’ Chennai office. A large number of the company’s new recruits prefer working at the office as opposed to remotely, the company’s plan to get all employees to work from home till December 2020 notwithstanding. “There are groups of employees who enjoy working from the office, want to work from office and have to work from the office,” said the company’s chief human resources officer, Suman Gopalan.

CavinKare & TCS bet big on WFH

These observations are significant especially in the context of several companies mulling the possibility of shifting to complete WFH models. A week ago, FMCG major CavinKare decided to shut down its headquarters in Chennai, put 40,000 square feet of prime office space on rent, and tell 300 employees to work from home, “permanently”.

“We have seen productivity go up and travel time saved,” said the company’s chairman and managing director, CK Ranganathan on his decision. “In all, this totals to an employee putting in an extra 55 days per-year.”

The company also recorded shorter product launch timelines and shorter, more efficient meetings when done virtually — factors that contributed to the management’s decision to continue its WFH model. Only couple of months earlier, IT services and consulting major, TCS, said that 75 percent of its workforce would work from home by 2025.

Social capital missing

The question remains: does work from home really work? “At this point, we cannot make a blanket statement on whether WFH has succeeded,” says Vembu, “What we have achieved so far is only because our employees have known each other for years, and are going remote, now. Social capital demands that we know each other well enough so that we can work remotely, from our homes. If we don’t know each other, can we keep doing this? The jury is out on that question.”

Vembu’s observations are not new. A JLL study reported that 82 percent of Indian employees want to get back to the workplace to seek out the social interaction at office that has thus far been absent while working from home. “So much of our work experience and work culture is built around the workplace experience — from foosball tables, to table tennis and badminton courts,” she says. “So when people start working remotely, the question remains: how do we bring that social interaction as well?”

Hybrid WFH models the solution?

It comes as no surprise that CEOs and their HR heads are mulling over the prospect of hybrid models that allow employees to choose whether or not they’d like to work from home or come back to the office — once the Pandemic ends, of course. “As an organization, we will adapt to a scenario where more employees will work remotely,” says Suman, adding, “But we will not shift to a 100 percent WFH model, because there is a group of people who want the in-office experience as well — young folks working for the first time and who are away from their families.” Then, there are also core jobs like facility management, network operations and core engineering that demand in-office presence.

This hybrid model could be complemented by a hub-and-spoke model endorsed by the likes of JLL, where a combination of urban and sub-urban offices could come together to ensure there’s adequate remote working but with the in-office experience. Another possibility is the core-and-flex model, which could see a company hold on to its headquarters but establish multiple satellite offices. In fact, that is exactly what Zoho is doing.

“We are opening seven or eight satellite offices for about 10 to 20 people each — we are provisioning for 20 but will start with five or 10,” says Vembu. “We are starting a 20-seater office in Tenkasi (Southern Tamil Nadu), and expecting between five and six of us to work here,” Vembu added. These plans come even as Zoho’s engineers are spread across small towns like Srirangam, Trichy and Nammakal. “We hope to meet once in three months in a nearby village and can supplement working remotely meeting with these meetings,” says Vembu.

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