Human resources (HR) professional Shachi Singhal joined automobile major Maruti Suzuki close to a decade ago. Work life was a nine-to-five routine, until the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, when it became mandatory to work from home (WFH). Her routine suddenly shifted from meetings and presentations at the company’s headquarters in Gurgaon to virtual meetings from the living room. The frequent coffee chats with colleagues shifted to Zoom or WebEx. A year later, as the world is learning to live with Covid, Singhal is back in office, but only thrice a week. Her company, she says, is looking at institutionalising working from anywhere. “A year ago, I would have never imagined not going to office every day, but WFH has been effective and has, in fact, improved productivity,” she says.
In December 2019, Richa Sharma had to give up a lucrative career in an energy company in Mumbai and return to her home town, Jaipur, to take care of her ailing mother. Just when Sharma was about to return to work towards the end of February last year, the country shut down to fight the pandemic, and most organisations froze hiring. In September, she got a short-term project in the audit team of Axis Bank. The best part was that she could work from Jaipur. Though she had to compromise slightly in terms of remuneration, the flexibility the role offered compensated for it. “I don’t have to travel to work and, more importantly, I have a role which I enjoy.”
As India Inc. returns to business as usual, the sea change the pandemic is bringing in structure of organisations is becoming clearer by the day. Gone are the days of sprawling office spaces, teeming with employees. The new era will see a hybrid workforce where most employees will work remotely while some will come to work two-three days a week. Performance management and hiring strategies will be tweaked too. And companies will increasingly opt for gig workers to save costs. “We will never go back to an era where all employees will come to office every day. Over 80 per cent of the workforce will go hybrid,” says Roshni Wadhwa, Director, Human Resources, L’Oreal India.
A recent Accenture report says nearly 40 per cent of today’s jobs can be performed at home. Over 34 per cent employees across industries plan to increase the work they do from home in the future. “Organisations are finding benefits such as lower costs, higher productivity and better talent in allowing people to work from home, either part time or full time. As per estimates, an organisation can save nearly $11,000 per year for every person who works remotely for 50 per cent of his time,” says Aditya Priyadarshan, Managing Director, (Strategy & Consulting - Talent & Organization), Accenture India.
While services companies have always been ahead of others in giving employees more freedom, the manufacturing sector, where such flexibility was unheard of, is catching up. A year into the pandemic, Rajesh Uppal, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of the country’s largest automaker, Maruti Suzuki, believes that over 55 per cent of Maruti’s workforce can move to hybrid model (which means either working from home permanently or coming to office a few days a week). “Absenteeism has reduced drastically as a result of WFH. Our productivity scores have gone up significantly,” says Uppal. He believes that apart from manufacturing roles which will require employees to report to work every day, a large part of white-collar roles can move to the hybrid mode. “We are empowering reporting managers to decide their mode of work,” he adds.
Remote working is no longer considered suboptimal. But physical interactions are important too. “Can all sales be done remotely, probably not? If you look at innovation and collaboration, that by design needs you to work together. However, you are not innovating every minute, so you don’t have to be together every minute. Therefore, you have to be able to recognise when you need to come together and enable that accordingly,” says Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, Vice President and HR Head, IBM.
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