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Coronavirus: Over 20 lakh employees to work from home, but is India Inc ready?

Software Technology Parks of India in an advisory issued said that it is enabling employees to work from home. According to reports it translates to close to 20 lakh IT employees. The sector employs about 40-50 lakh people.

March 13, 2020 / 08:44 PM IST
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More than 20 lakh of employees are expected to work from home in the coming days, with the coronavirus threat looming large.

Lack of network infrastructure, regulatory hurdles and productivity tools are key impediments to work from home, or WFH, according to industry observers.

According to reports, it translates into close to 20 lakh IT employees.

In addition, employees from other services sector such as startups, education and travel and tourism too have been told not to come to office and work from home.

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Anjali Raghuvanshi, Chief People Officer at human resources firm Randstad India, told Moneycontrol that companies now have a more liberal approach towards the 'work from home' (WFH) concept.

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"Organisations with positive cases are providing it. Further, 100 percent business continuity plans (BCP) are also being thought of by companies who are preparing for a situation where all employees could be required to work from home. The idea is to ensure that client services are not disrupted," she said.

But there are challenges.

Major challenge with WFH across sectors is the poor internet speed. Tinu Cherian, a communication professional with a tech firm, who recently came back from the US, self-quarantined himself and is working from home. Most of the meeting are now being done through video and audio conferencing.

“But the internet speed has become poor, as more people are now working from home,” he said and added that it will impact productivity severely. Cherian’s internet speed is usually 150 mpbs but currently it is barely 5-10 mbps.

Barring the internet speed that sectors across will face, some sectors are able to manage WFH whereas, it will be difficult if not impossible for others to implement this option.

IT sector

Take IT industry for instance. V Balakrishnan, former CFO, Infosys, pointed out that the system is designed only for 10-15 percent of the employees to work from home, and the firms can implement this only selectively. So it is difficult to make it work of all of the two to four lakh employees the major each IT services players employ. The top four IT firms - TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL Tech - alone employ close to 10 lakh people.

According to a report, close to 20 lakh IT employees are expected to work from home. Companies are not just equipped to handle that kind of scale, Balakrishnan added.

Ashish Agarwal, senior director and head, policy and advocacy, NASSCOM, said, one way the IT firms can work around this is to relax Other Service Providers (OSP) license for the IT firms at least for the next three months.

Any company that is a bulk user of network, needs to have this license.  While within the campuses, firms have the infrastructure to access the network, the hassle begins when employees start working from home.

To enable thousands of employees to WFH, the company should apply for OSP license to the Department of Telecommunication (DoT). “For this few conditions have to be satisfied,” Agarwal said.

The company applying for license should pay a bank guarantee of Rs 1 crore per office. If the company has 76 offices, it should pay Rs 76 crore as bank guarantee. In addition, the access to network will be given only through virtual private network (VPN) provided by the telecom service providers (TSPs) such as Airtel.

This is a challenge since companies use corporate VPN for security reasons and TSPs do not have the solution right now. According to Agarwal, it would take 2-3 months for the TSPs to implement and that would be too late. “Even a week is too late. We are people intensive industry,” he added.

“What we are asking DoT is to waive off these requirements for three months. We have had discussions with DoT and sought some clarifications. We are waiting for the approval,” Agarwal explained.

How are other sectors faring?

For firms that do not require scale, the process has been less daunting. Yugansh Goyal, Associate Director,  Acko General Insurance said that the remote working model can be as efficient as working from office if right tools are used.

"Now all calls landing on Acko's toll-free number are smoothly transferred to employees who receive the calls on their mobiles. Sales representatives can click to call customers or prospects from their systems. The call automatically dials out to the employee's mobile phone on one end and to the customer/prospect on the other.The transfer is very smooth, and we're proud to say that we're able to manage business-as-usual while taking all precautions to ensure our employees' safety," he added.

Bhavin Turakhia, Founder and CEO at Flock and Co-founder and CEO at Zeta said that the company has offered Business Continuity Process across business units and functions including the support functions with a 3-5 work from home mock drill.

"Our BCP is not limited to only work from home, it takes into account succession planning for critical roles that will come into effect in case of an employee or their loved one falls sick," added Turakhia.

Measuring productivity

While some experts pointed out that measuring productivity could be a challenge, others said with more firms implementing WFH it will help understand the efficacy.

Kamal Karanth, founder, Xpheno, a specialised staffing firm, reasoned that so far the industry has not seen WFH of this scale. “So this will be a good data point,” he added.

According to him, this period will help firms under efficacy of work from home, gaps in infrastructure and tech needed to manage work from home and see if this can be something that can be done on a long term. “If it can be done, it will reduce real estate and may be traffic congestion in Bengaluru,” he quipped.

(With additional inputs from Sriram Mani)

Swathi Moorthy
M Saraswathy
M Saraswathy
first published: Mar 13, 2020 05:26 pm