Indian information technology (IT) companies are putting in place dedicated policies for gig tech workers and piloting projects with freelancers, as remote working gains wider acceptance.
Companies like TCS, and Tech Mahindra have already started monitoring projects involving gig workers, executives said. According to experts, this is likely to gain traction in the coming months.
While Indian IT services have traditionally employed many subcontractors, the workforce has mostly been devoid of freelancers. Acceptance of freelancers was low among clients, triggered mainly by data security concerns.
Now, COVID-19 has helped changing these old notions.
During the pandemic, companies were forced to enable work-from-home (WFH) for more than 90 percent of their workforce, particularly for a short period in March 2020. Three quarters down the line, it is clear that WFH is here to stay.
While IT firms are talking about a hybrid work model, some companies like TCS plan to make WFH permanent. The multinational technology major plans to have 75 percent of its employees working from home by 2025.
As it gains wider acceptance amidst clients and employees, companies are working on prospective models for gig workers.
Gig working model
Again, TCS may help provide the lead. The company is already piloting a gig working model for internal projects. While V Ramakrishnan, CFO, TCS, in a recent interaction did not share details of the kind of projects the company is piloting or discuss their scale, he admitted that while ``It is in too early a stage, it will evolve and it will happen.”
VV Apparao, Chief Human Resources Officer, HCL Tech, was more candid. He said that the company is identifying roles that requires work-from-home and those where one needs to come to office and interact with people. This would help them assign roles that can be freelanced, keeping in mind client data protection needs and demands.
HCL Tech has, in fact, rolled out a dedicated policy for gig workers. “If they are not keen on working nine hours a day and they want to work only four to five hours, we have enabled it from a policy perspective,” Apparao said.
Other IT firms such as Tech Mahindra and automotive engineering services firm KPIT Technologies too are looking at planning similar projects for freelancers.
Manoj Bhat, Chief Finance Officer, Tech Mahindra, said: “We have few programmes that we are piloting across certain projects, including internal schemes.”
The company is breaking programmes into smaller components based on skills, which are highly niche and can be done through part-time employees.
“For example, maybe a module would require an expert in aerodynamics to work for 10 days for one of our aerospace customers. That is a typical area where a freelancer would fit in. Where we can break down the programme in smaller logical boxes and then put it out in the gig economy and gig ecosystem,” Bhat explained.
KPIT Technologies, is examining yet another template - of bringing more women into the workforce. “We believe that we can attract women outside our offices. These would be far and few, yet everything adds at the experience level,” said Kishor Patil, CEO. The company is working on piloting this programme.
“We are in the process of identifying some key people. We will then pilot the project, as and when it makes sense for us. Initially Mumbai might be a good place for us to experiment. But the idea is to go to tier 2/3 cities,” he added.
However, there are multiple challenges when it comes to implementing the gig policy.
For Patil, it is important for employees, even gig workers, to understand the company culture. “The key point for us is to see if this works. Because the person needs to understand KPIT well,” he explained.
Currently due to the pandemic, it is difficult to get temporary employees over because they may or may not be able to travel and get to know the company. “But once things are normal, a person can spend a week in office, get introduced and then be in a position to work from home or work from other offices,” stated Patil, outlining his proposed plan.
The other issue is security, though post-COVID work-from-home experiences prove that that working remotely can be as secure as operating from offices. According to tech employees in a leading IT firm, subcontractors are being released from certain banking clients’ projects or asked to come to office over security concerns.
An executive of this firm, however, added that this trend did not apply across the board, but just that some clients are more conscious than others, especially where data is sensitive, as in the banking sector.
“If customers are keen and you work only from a secured development centre, then you don’t have a choice but to ask employees to come and work from offices," agreed Apparao of HCL Tech.
Add to it the employee mindset, which itself is an issue, he pointed out. “In India, traditionally, people want to work full time." Though people have taken the flexi-working hours option the company had given, freelancing is yet to pick up, he added.
Plus, freelancers should have the opportunity to work on multiple projects. “Unless they have that kind of opportunity, people will hesitate to move from full time jobs,” Apparao concluded.
Here to stay
Vijay Sivaram, CEO - IT Staffing, Quess Corp, believes that the gig ecosystem may develop slowly, but steadily. "You might not see volumes, but acceptance levels are good. Many organisations are asking people for three months or to complete a certain activity or task," he explained.
Companies are also working out the kind of tasks that might be assigned to such employees. With more firms adopting the model and as opportunities increase, more people would move to freelancing, Sivaram added.
Said Ramakrishnan of TCS, “Over a period, some elements of the gig economy will also come into play in the industry. That will take some time, but it is possible. The benefits are high, and this will create its own new dynamics and evolve.” Clearly, a lot of people are waiting for such an ecosystem to evolve.