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Last Updated : Nov 29, 2019 12:38 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Commute woes, flexi needs push India Inc to loosen work policies

Companies have realised that employees' productivity improves if they are allowed to work from any location convenient to them


Sameer Mathur, Director HR at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), is of the view that the work-from-home benefit that he avails works very well for his job role. Not only is he able to avoid the commute, he is also able to research on new strategies and emerging human resource practices.

“Phone calls are also limited to the scheduled conference calls in the day. Hence, productivity levels are higher,” he said.

RBS is among the several organisations in India that are now allowing employees the option to work-from-home for a fixed period to avoid the two-to-three hour commute. The decision on which employee can avail of this benefit is taken by its managers. But all employees are allowed to work-from-home once a week.

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Long hours of commute to the workplace and rising pollution levels have nudged India Inc to allow flexible work conditions to their staff. While earlier not all companies were accommodative of these requests, a rise in millennials (22-39 year-olds) at the workplace have forced firms to re-look their HR policies.

For millennials, a work-life balance is a top priority. They believe in the 9-8-7 philosophy, which involves nine hours of work, eight hours of sleep and seven hours of time spent with friends and family.

Globally, a few companies in Norway, Japan and New Zealand are looking at a four-day work week. This is to ensure that an employee works harder on these four days and keeps the rest of the week for friends, family and hobbies.

How does this work?

Unlike popular perception that working from home means relaxing/napping, it involves the same attention span. In fact, multiple coffee/smoke breaks are avoided when an employee works from home, so productivity is higher.

Ankit Agarwala, Regional Director, Michael Page India said that the tasks to be performed during 'work from home' days would be agreed and documented with the management beforehand.

He added that this benefit is usually offered to more senior or longer-tenured employees, though some firms also use it as a reward for long service in the organisation.

Companies usually don’t have structured policies for working from a non-office location. It depends on the reporting manager and the type of job role. For instance, if the individual is in a customer-facing job role then he/she will not be granted this facility.

This ranges from three days a month to as high as one day a week. And this facility is over and above the standard leaves and sabbaticals.

At RBS, for instance, those dealing with customer data cannot work outside office. This is to protect data privacy of end-users.

The work hours, be it working from office or home, remains the same. It is merely the commute time that is done away with. With places like Delhi NCR facing pollution worries, flexible work options help avoid potential ailments that would impact long-term productivity.

Kunal Sen, Managing Director India, Korn Ferry RPO and Professional Search, said most firms offer some form of flexible work arrangements. For example, he explained that 40 percent of IBM employees do not attend office every day.

“There is evidence to show that the most productive employees are not always the ones who clock in 10-12 hours of work every day. As long as outcomes are clearly defined and delivered, the company and employee should be happy irrespective of the work hours,” he added.

Having collaborative tools and technologies has also done away with the need to be physically present at the workplace every single day.

At DBS Bank, for example, applications like Teams and One Drive offered under the MS-Office suite help employees to stay connected and seamlessly collaborate within their teams and across the bank.

Kishore Poduri, ED and Head-HR, DBS Bank India, said employees can also work from different offices/branches within a city. “This option is widely appreciated by employees in metros like Mumbai where commute can be challenging and time consuming, thereby having an adverse impact on productivity.”

In places like Mumbai, an average one-way commute takes 70-90 minutes. This means an employee spends over two hours commuting to and from work every day.

Employee is the boss

Organisations are also letting the employee choose which day he/she should take as a non-office working. Rather than having a top-down approach, companies are looking at ensuring the concerned person is able to complete his tasks, irrespective of their location.

RBS’s Mathur said that while working from home was considered a premium benefit, it is now becoming a common practice. “We ensure that the system cannot be misused. For instance, individuals need to refresh their system every 10 minutes to stop it from being logged out. Over time, the managers have also matured enough to find out who is misusing the facility,” he added.

There is also a huge cost benefit. Workstations cost quite a bit and all expenses associated with that can be saved.

Earlier, there was a close monitoring of the time an employee spent if office -- right from the time they walked into the workplace till the time they left office. That system is slowly changing.

Supratik Bhattacharya, Chief Talent Officer, RPG Group, said they follow a core working hours policy that helps employees choose if they wish to come earlier or later than their usual working hours. In addition, employees can also choose to work from home with prior intimation to their supervisors.

“As an organisation, we tend to look at an employee’s output more than the time or hours she/he is clocking in the office. And most of all, we simply trust our employees to be delivering the best at all times. We have learnt that it works the best this way,” he added.

However, in sectors like retail or sales where employees are required to be at the workplace/shop floor on their fixed days, a work-from-home option is not viable. Here companies are looking at flexible work hours.

Udaiy Khanna, Director and Head of HR at METRO Cash & Carry India, said the idea is that employees behave like owners of the business. Rather than having a fix clock-in/lock-out time, the organisation allows employees to reach office anytime between 8 am to 10 am and clock in their nine hours accordingly.

Similarly, Canara HSBC OBC Life Insurance provides an option for staggered hours where employees can start the day as early as 7.30 am or can choose to be at office by 9.30 am. Kiran Yadav, its Chief People Officer, said in specific situations employees can choose to work from branch offices, which enables convenience and camaraderie.

Though most companies have standard policies for male and female staff, some companies are walking the extra mile for women employees.

Packaging solutions firm Emmbi Industries has one such policy. CFO Rinku Appalwar said the company offers work-from-home days for menstruating women during the days of their cycle every month but restricts it to one per month. She added that since they use Google Suite, the teams are able to stay connected over docs and use the video conferencing facilities in case of meetings.

However, the wider-held belief is that the flexibility is now not just restricted to one gender or to new mothers.

Pallavi Tyagi, Chief Human Resources Officer at Capgemini India, said about 22 percent of its employees have used the work-from-home arrangement since the programme’s launch in March.

Both men and women from the company have equally availed the flexi work option which Tyagi said is an indication of a social reality that flexibility is the requirement of all employees, irrespective of gender.

“Flexibility at work is no longer a nice-to-have initiative or an optional perk mostly used by women. The common stereotypes around flexibility and importance of facetime are no longer a reality. We need to de-parent, de-gender and de-age the perception around flexible working,” Tyagi said.

Rather than having a paper-based policy, Rushabh Gandhi, Deputy CEO, IndiaFirst Life Insurance, said the offer compressed work weeks or part-time work timings. Individual employees can chart out one’s own definition of a productive working schedule or the extent of involvement.

Special occasions

An employee may not always require a flexible working option. Most companies offer this option for medical emergencies, but other softer aspects are also being taken into view.

Take Fincare Small Finance Bank for instance. Pankaj Gulati, its Chief People Officer, said they follow a need-based approach.

Work from home is offered in the event of special situations such as marriage, long-term hospitalisation, child’s exams, religious ceremonies, and for spending time with visiting parents.

In these cases, the manager then takes the responsibility to balance the work load to ensure that the team is able to deliver on its commitments as per schedule. Functional leaders also step in by assigning additional resources on a temporary basis to support productivity.

“Empirically, colleagues who have benefited from the flexi-working support in their need of hour, demonstrate higher commitment and productivity levels,” Gulati stated.

In smaller companies, minor health issues or even the weather is pushing employees to avail work from home options.

Dhirendra Mahyavanshi, Co-Founder, Turtlemint, said the company offers work-from-home facility to its employees for any personal or minor health issues as well as when it becomes an issue to commute to work due to heavy rains or smog. This is offered across all functions and levels like technology, sales, marketing or finance.

Companies have realised that there are not only enabling higher productivity but saving costs as well. While he did not disclose the exact savings, RBS’s Mathur said workstations cost quite a bit and all expenses associated with that can be saved if an employee decides to work from home.

At a time when global companies like Microsoft are experimenting with four-day work week (in Japan on a pilot basis), it will not be long for all other companies to take a cue. With Indians perceived globally to be the most overworked with 54 hours (plus 18 hours of weekly travel), India Inc can at least take the commute time off. Productivity numbers will only see a jump as was reported by Microsoft, which saw a 40 percent jump in the metric.

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First Published on Nov 22, 2019 10:29 am
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