For close to 120 Wipro Kochi employees who resumed office on Monday, April 27, things were different. They were greeted by security in protective outfits screening them for COVID-19 symptoms, compulsory hands-free sanitisers and longer queues, all while maintaining social distancing.
Inside the office, there is no room for water cooler talks, now that one has to maintain one-metre distance. There is no scope for group lunch breaks either, with just two people allowed to sit on tables that usually seat four or six.
It's a very different workspace from what they are used to.
In the coming days, this will be the norm in most IT companies. At least until the coronavirus pandemic is under control. Until then, IT companies are leaving no stones unturned to ensure employees' safety across the campus from toilets to interaction with colleagues.
The government on April 20 had allowed companies to re-open offices with 50 percent capacity. However, states such as Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have not allowed IT/ITeS employees to operate except for essential services.
A slow start
More than 90 percent of employees in IT services firms are now working from home (WFH). In business process management firms, the WFH strength is 60-80 percent. Both sectors put together employ about 50 lakh people.
However, companies are in no rush to get their employees to work. Top executives in major IT firms have agreed that the shift to office would be gradual.
UB Pravin Rao, COO, Infosys said during FY20 result announcement that the company will start with less than 5 percent employees initially for three to four weeks. Then will slowly increase it to 15-20 percent. All the time following high standards of safety, he added.
Keshav R Murugesh, Group CEO, WNS Global Services, a business process management firm, said the company is looking at getting employees to office starting with those who have difficulty working from home. Not more than 600-700 employees will work from office out of 44,000+ employee base, until the COVID-19 situation is under control, he added.
Unlike before, employees won’t be able to just enter the campus after the routine scan of bags and security checks.
They will be disinfected with sanitisers and may even have to undergo thermal screening. Wipro on its Kochi campus has created a hands-free sanitiser that can be operated using your foot. The hands-free sanitiser was developed by Wipro’s facilities management group’s engineering team in Kochi.
Rishad Premji, Wipro Chairman, took to Twitter to talk about the 'new normal.'
Rao during the quarter results said that the company will do temperature checks and is also looking to set up testing centres subject to availability of testing kits.
Murugesh of WNS pointed out that in cases where an employee tests positive or even experiencing symptoms, he/she will not be allowed to come back into the office until and unless they have been quarantined for enough of a period.
Maintaining social distancing
Social distancing will be the new normal, agree all executives. Commuting to office will be different too, for social distancing will be maintained in buses that ply employees to office and vice versa. This would mean operating buses at strength much lower than earlier.
Let us take Wipro. Rishad Premji, chairman, Wipro, said in a tweet that social distancing will be implemented in all work places from toilets to cafeteria. Employees might have to wait longer to use wash rooms and lift. Queues in food courts are likely to be longer. In lifts, in place of 4-5 people, only two will be allowed.
Murugesh said, “We (WNS) have created standard operating procedure (SOP) for how they will spend the whole day in office while interacting with each other minimally from a physical point of view.”
This would mean more use of telephones or as an employee joked, shout from one end to the other.
Travel policy will see a huge change too. Travelling is one of the most essential parts of IT/ITeS business and cannot be completely done away with once markets open up. However, the definition of business travel will change.
Murugesh explained that while not all travels can be done away with, the company will see keep a check on if the travel is essential or the meeting with clients could be done over video calls like it is today.
Currently, most of the meetings are done over video applications such as Zoom since the travel ban is in place. The company has also created a separate SOP on protocols to follow when a person travels. This includes the route he/she needs to take depending on the virus spread at that point, protective equipment provided to them and also travel insurance policy they need to take.
The travel policy also includes an emergency response in case when the country the person travelling to goes under lockdown.