When the COVID-19 pandemic came ashore and moves like lockdowns were being deliberated upon, the USD 180-billion IT sector faced a huge challenge for business continuity. More than a month into it, industry executives feel it has been a blessing in disguise and will lead to a larger number of people to work from home in the post coronavirus world.
They attribute the emerging scenario to cost and productivity gains out of WFH (Work From Home) and it is not just the IT sector which is reaping the benefits. Companies across the services sectors, including banks, are set to have fewer people work from the offices in the future.
India was put under a three-week lockdown from March 25, which was extended by 19 more days till May 3, to arrest the spread of coronavirus infections. As the promised date nears, there is an increasing possibility that the lockdown will be extended in many pockets, which have turned into hotspots. At present, many employees travel long distances to workplaces in cities plagued with traffic issues and high air pollution.
Largest software exporter TCS’s Chief Executive and Managing Director Rajesh Gopinathan explained that over the decades, IT companies’ model was based on employees trooping-in to cubicles often in specially erected or hired campuses for work, but the lockdown resulted in a quick shift to the WFH model.
Keshav Murugesh, Chief Executive of business process management player WNS and former Chairman of IT industry lobby grouping Nasscom, said the association responded to the challenge by helping its members transport over 25 lakh desktops from offices to associates’ residences within a fortnight, which ensured work can continue. Once they started working from home, companies are seeing gains on costs as well as efficiencies, and now, business leaders are certain that fewer people will be manning the cubicles spread across campuses. “WFH is working extremely well. With the kind of efficiencies that we have started delivering on WFH, there will be a significant impact in the longer term, Murugesh told PTI, stating that in the future, a higher percentage of people will be working from home than pre-COVID days. Such a shift will be a blessing for women who are not able to continue with their careers because of family commitments, as they can continue devoting some time for work, Murugesh said, pegging the total number of such possible beneficiaries in millions.
In a recent interaction, TCS’s Chief Operating Officer N Ganapathy Subramaniam said the company is expecting to have only 25 per cent of its staff work from offices by 2025, though it was not clear when the company decided on the target. “We are seeing that our team is able to handle the transaction volumes. At the same time, we are seeing that the productivity, the velocity, the throughput of work has significantly increased. I do not believe that the gains will be lost. There will be a lot more to gain in this new model, he said. ” we don’t believe that we need to have more than 25 per cent of our workforce at our facilities in order to make all the 100 per cent productive. That is one great realisation. We don’t believe that every employee needs to be present all the time in our offices, Subramaniam added. The company has ensured that 90 per cent of its 3.55 lakh people working in India have been able to work from home in a secure manner.
Veteran banker Aditya Puri, who has led HDFC Bank since its inception to be the largest by assets among the private sector ones, also seemed to agree with the IT industry. “Everybody who could work from home is already working from home. In fact, we are now examining whether even after coronavirus why these people should not work from home because it gives ample cost saving to us and (WFH) is a good benefit to the employee, Puri said on a conference call late last month.
However, the industry’s wishes cannot easily get transformed into practice, Murugesh said, pointing to the BPM (Business Process Management) industry’s peculiar demands if a large portion of staff were to work from home. At present, he said the Department of Telecom and the Commerce Ministry have granted a limited period approval for carrying out WFH, and the same relaxations will have to be continued as well. Explaining the same, he said associates need specialised telephone lines to stay connected while most of the companies work out of campuses which are demarcated as Special Economic Zones, and enjoy taxation sops and other advantages because work happens from a specific area.