As the second wave of COVID-19 pauses a return-to-office initiatives, and the work-from- home (WFH) system continues, techies are in for a different workplace model.
From hyperlocal workplaces to hot desking, companies are working on multiple strategies as they get ready for the post-pandemic workplace. Some companies like HCL Tech, Genpact, and SAP Labs India are already looking at setting up smaller hubs in cities and towns across the country.
Work-from-home model extended
When the lockdown eased last year, employees were slowly coming back to work once or twice a week. For instance, HCL Tech had encouraged employees to work from office once a week, though it was optional.
L&T Technology Services, which is in the engineering and R&D services space, too, saw close to a quarter of its employees, on average, return to office. Its Bengaluru office saw 30 percent people coming to offices when the lockdown eased and Chennai 40 percent.
Debashis Chatterjee, CEO, Mindtree, in an earlier interaction with Moneycontrol said that he had started going to office once or twice a week.
However, all that has come to a stop now in the light of the second wave. Currently, more than 95 percent of the employees are working from home, similar to a year ago, only more comfortable with the process.
Many companies have extended WFH protocols. This is unlikely to change in the coming months, given that vaccination is yet to gain pace and there is already talk of the third wave in India.
In an earlier interview, Nachiket Sukhtankar, Managing Director – India, DXC Technology, said that the company has extended the WFH model till June 2021. “We will not open (office) till the end of quarter one, which is June. Depending on how the data shows up, we might potentially extend that,” he said.
L&T Infotech (LTI) CEO Sanjay Jalona said that he does not see employees coming to office till December 2021, and they would evaluate the situation, and extend it, if need be.
Even as WFH continues, tech firms are getting ready for the future of work and are putting in place strategies for the post-pandemic world.
VV Apparao, CHRO, HCL Technologies, said that in a year’s time (between 2020 and 2021), a lot of fatigue has set in, which was normal, and people want to get back to work.
However, it might not be the same workplace as it was pre-pandemic. “We do expect that this concentrated work from one place is not something which will sustain, going forward. It will be a lot more distributed with people coming in from nearby locations and towns," he says.
According to him, people will likely come to the workplace once a week and they would rather go to a nearby office, instead of travelling to campuses, which might be an hour away. The Idea of 'one person, one desk' will give way to hot desks, where people share seats instead of having a fixed one.
Many executives are already thinking along these lines. Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO, Genpact, a business process management firm, said in an earlier interaction that a hyperlocal workplace is likely to be the future.
“Instead of having five buildings in the National Capital Region (NCR), where we have operations, we might have 25 locations in the NCR, but all of them much smaller and spread out, so that people who are working from home can come into the office. The office can only accommodate up to, say 100 people, at any given point. And by rotation, people nearby come and work in office every week. So, the travel time goes from one-and-a-half hours to 15 minutes,” he explained.
Sindhu Gangadharan, MD, SAP Labs India, explained that the company is looking at creating smaller hubs that offer similar functionality to campuses in terms of connectivity, where employees can work from, instead of travelling to campuses.
Offices in small towns and cities
Some firms are also looking at creating workplaces in towns, where they have significant employees working. HCL Tech has campuses in four tier-2 locations like Lucknow, Madurai, Nagpur and Vijayawada. They are looking at two more locations.
Jalona of LTI said that the company has seen two or three different locations where a lot of employees go back to their hometowns – Coimbatore and Nagpur, and will evaluate more options for its future of work strategy.