Indian IT companies are cutting back on overseas business travels and staggering their return to office momentum as a precaution against the new COVID-19 variant, 0micron, according to industry executives.
This comes at a time when the Indian IT executives resumed their business travel and started getting employees back to office from September with vaccination gaining pace.
The latest COVID-19 variant, Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduces vaccine efficacy but causes less severe symptoms according to early data, the World Health Organization said Sunday. The Delta variant, first identified in India earlier this year, is responsible for most of the world's coronavirus infections. India so far has reported 38 cases with the new variant.
While the situation so far has not been alarming, companies are taking steps to stop the spread of virus amid the employees. This includes cutting back on overseas business travel and taking a re-look at return to work.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Cutting back on travel
Abhishek Sinha, COO & Board member, L&T Technology Services (LTTS), told Moneycontrol that the company is cautious about the new variant and travelling overseas for work is recommended only when the employee is comfortable and is necessary.
Sachin Tikekar, President - KPIT Technologies, told Moneycontrol, “It (Omicron) is not alarming yet but we are watching the space very carefully. There are still things we don’t know about the variant.” However the company is taking steps to ensure that this does not affect the business. This includes doubling down on vaccination, travel restrictions, and hitting a pause on getting more employees to work.
The company aims to reach double vaccination for more than 95 percent of its employees in the coming weeks. It has also created additional processes for overseas travel as a precautionary measure.
Companies classify overseas travel into two, long-term and short-term. Tikekar said that while there is unlikely to be any change in the long term overseas travel, the company is cutting down on short-term business travel. “We are toning down on business travel. Why take unnecessary risk?” said Tikekar.
KPIT Technologies also had initially planned to go all out on the annual trade show in the first week of January, with a large number of its employees attending the show. “Now we are tapering that down to much less than what we had earlier planned due to the new variant,” he added. But he did not disclose the number of people attending the show. TCS, Infosys and Wipro did not respond to Moneycontrol’s queries about the impact of the new variant on business travel.
But, when it comes to getting employees back to offices, companies are on wait and watch mode.
Return to office hits a pause
Sinha and Tikekar shared that while the new variant will affect their plan to step up return to office, those who are already back to campuses will continue. LTTS has 40 percent of the employees coming back to offices at any point in time. While this will continue, Sinha said that the number is unlikely to accelerate.
Tikekar of KPIT technologies said that about 10 percent of the employees are working from offices, and this will continue. The company will put on hold its efforts to bring more employees back to campus, and will take additional measures to ensure that its campuses are safe, including the cafeteria. One of the things KPIT Technologies did during the pandemic was tables were spread out to follow social distancing and only one person was allowed per table. While it became two with things getting back to normal, Tikekar said they are going back to one table per person, and spreading tables further out.
This comes shortly after many companies started getting more employees back to work.
Before the pandemic hit, companies had started getting employees to campuses after 18 months of working from home. For instance, TCS, Infosys, HCL Tech and Wipro saw the senior executives returning to campuses starting September and were aiming to get more employees to office gradually.Milind Lakkad, chief human resources officer at TCS, during the recent interaction told Moneycontrol that the company aims to get 80 percent of the employees in 2022 before the proportion is narrowed. Infosys COO UB Pravin said during the earnings call in October that the company may see 20-30 percent of the workforce coming to office over the next six months if the impact of a third wave of Covid-19 is minimal.
TCS, Infosys and Wipro did not respond to Moneycontrol’s query on whether the companies will delay return to work with the new variant in place, and how the companies are looking at return to office.HCL Technologies in a statement said, “Being a responsible corporate, employee and customer health and well-being is of utmost priority for us at HCL Technologies. We continue to monitor the situation and follow all government guidelines. At present, based on requirements for certain roles, employees continue to come back to office in a staggered manner. The company is taking all efforts to ensure that all the employees are fully vaccinated, offices are maintained at the highest standard of sanitization, as per protocol and all employees are screened time-to-time.”
However the new variant is likely to impact business.
Impact on businessExecutives pointed out that 18 months of work from home have given clients more confidence and the potential third wave is unlikely to impact business. “There is a lot more confidence from the client side that work can be done,” Sinha of LTTS pointed out. Tikekar also added that demand continues to be robust as enterprises are fast tracking digital transformation journeys.