India Inc CEOs see work from home advantage, long term

Prominent leaders such as Rahul Agarwal of Lenovo, CP Gurnani of Tech Mahindra and Nivruti Rai of Intel say that they are actively considering a hybrid model, with sporadic jaunts to the office, well beyond the lockdown

Published: May 6, 2020 12:07:12 PM IST
Updated: May 8, 2020 01:09:51 PM IST

work from home 2.0After over a month of the nationwide lockdown, India Inc’s top leaders say they are beginning to consider a work from home or hybrid model even for the long term

At 6.30 pm sharp, just as everyone else is winding up work, Damini Nair, 27, logs in to her desktop. Nair, who works with a global IT services major, has been working the graveyard shift from home for over a month. She does miss going to an office, though, considering she is working 11 hours now versus the regular nine because of poor internet connectivity.

Like Nair, most of the country has rapidly moved to working from home full time, thanks to the nationwide lockdown. The mode of work has received mixed reactions—some, like Nair, find it difficult to adapt to without adequate infrastructure; while others, saving on commute time and finding themselves more efficient, can no longer imagine sitting at an office desk all day.

A majority of companies—especially those in the tech space—are actively considering how this months-long transition might change the way they work in the long term. For instance, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) recently said that as much as 75 percent of their 3.5 lakh employees will work from home by 2025. “We call this philosophy 25x25, which means only 25 percent of our employees may have to be in office to ensure that 100 percent are productive,” N Ganapathy Subramaniam, chief operating officer and executive director, TCS, said while addressing a press conference on quarterly earnings recently.

We spoke to corporate India’s prominent leaders to get their views on whether the work from home (WFH) culture is here to stay at their companies, and whether India is prepared to embrace it. Here’s what they had to say.

We would like 25% of employees to work from home long term: CP Gurnani, MD and CEO, Tech Mahindra

c p gurnani
Image: Vipin Rana

We have had a formal work from home policy in place for a long time, and most of our leaders and associates have made use of it—but of course, not at this scale, and not all at once. Frankly, we were apprehensive in the initial days of the lockdown, but our teams have stood up to the challenge, and we are working at near pre-Covid productivity levels, and, in some cases, exceeding them. Currently, 94 percent of our work is being delivered from home.

Every model of working has its pros and cons. While circumstances will force us to work in isolation for some time, we must also realise that human creativity and teamwork thrives on social interactions. So yes, a hybrid model will exist. It could be limited visits to office for social distancing reasons to start with and, as we use more collaboration tools and get used to lone working, I believe we will move permanently to a hybrid model. Technology solutions will quickly evolve but it is the human angle that will be important to watch.

The paradigm of leadership in this new normal has changed and the challenge for leaders is to adjust their mindsets from ‘command and control’ to ‘mentor and inspire’.

We ourselves are looking at about 25 percent of our employees working from home in the long term. In our industry, productivity and deliverables will not be impacted by this—and might be enhanced, in fact.

Covid-19 has enabled us to create a proven model that can serve a larger workforce of women and persons with disabilities, and enable tech firms to tap into talent from rural India—a workforce from Bharat. Yes, the hybrid model is here to stay.

Changes in work culture were visible even before the outbreak: Rahul Agarwal, CEO and MD, Lenovo India

rahul agarwalImage: Manisha Agarwal
The situation we are in right now is not only confirming that our technology investments have been valuable, but also that the workforce will move to a remote direction in the years to come. However, it is too early to measure a productivity impact.

There are, of course, challenges in working remotely. Lenovo research shows that people cite distractions (42 percent), and blurring work and life boundaries (32 percent) as top reasons to dislike WFH. Having said that, most people feel more peaceful and productive at home. Lenovo also recently released global research on the impact of the coronavirus on workplace engagement, which shows that employees and businesses are ready to adapt to WFH arrangements. It’s a pleasure to know that this is true for our Indian employees too. In the future, we may move to a hybrid model.

We have not been a remote working country culturally, and managers will need to rewire their thinking. Management will have to realise that good people will work well wherever they are—and the others will not, wherever they are. You can’t monitor people in the new world. The focus should be on output and not on the activity. By trusting employees, you empower and motivate them more.

I think the changes in work culture were visible even before the pandemic hit. Technology capabilities had already ushered in a new global workforce that stayed connected in a work-from-anywhere world. This will now accelerate, especially in new age and tech companies. I just hope there is more innovation in video conferencing soon, and we are able to have 3D interactions.

I’m hopeful work from home will fix talent, gender and diversity gaps: Debjani Ghosh, President, Nasscom

debjani ghosh

There’s tremendous benefit to working from home. We’ve seen productivity go up and hopefully, it’ll stay up in the long run. One thing we have found is that when you are working online, it is truly a collaborative process.

Having said that, some issues still exist—last-mile access, connectivity, cyber security and so on. This is also a good time for the government to focus on power supply problems. These are some issues India will need to sort out before work from home can become a long-term model.

We expect that most large companies will put a hybrid model in place. IT services companies will dominate here, while business process management (BPM) and smaller companies might not be able to entirely. But I do think we will see a blended model becoming the new norm.

I’m very hopeful that work from home will fix the talent gap that companies and industries have.

The thing to remember, as men and women work from home, is that men realise that work from home is not just to sit in front of the computer, but to equally pitch in with daily household chores. We will see a lot of changes towards bridging the talent gap, the gender gap and the other diversity gaps, to a very large extent.


'The future of WFH will depend on how long the Covid-19 outbreak lasts': 
Ashish Chauhan, MD and CEO, BSE (formerly Bombay Stock Exchange)

A few weeks ago, work from home was a distant concept. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, organisations and the entire stock market ecosystem, consisting of several lakh people across the length and breadth of India, had to resort to that on a day’s notice. However, our IT team was well prepared.

Over the past decade, we have meticulously planned for disaster recovery and business continuity processes. And the results have shown: The market has not closed for a single second even with more than 90 percent employees working from home.

Today, the BSE is in a position to allow employees to work from home, thanks to the automation of the entire ecosystem. It’s a 24x7x365 kind of organisation, so every employee has to be alert, whether they are working remotely or from an office location.

The future of work-from-home culture in India will depend on how long the scare of Covid-19 lasts. If it lasts long, most organisations will transform themselves to work in a newer reality. If the problems are resolved in the next few months, we may have slightly modified ways of doing things. One thing is for sure: Covid-19 has changed for ever the way we work; in India and in the rest of the world.


'We deliver our best from wherever we are, not just the office': Hari Vasudev, Country Head & SVP-Technology, Walmart Labs

We had work from home policies in place but to ensure that this large-scale transition was smooth, we have tweaked them—providing financial assistance to buy office furniture at home, for instance.

However, the biggest concern we have today is long screen hours. We are educating our associates to be a lot more disciplined about work timings. It is important to respect the balance between work from home and work for home. Also, the long commutes are avoidable now, so we can organise our days a little better.

Working from home hasn’t taken from us our spirit of engagement, however. Recently, we celebrated National Pet Day, where our associates shared adorable pictures; on World Innovation and Creativity day, associates took to the virtual stage and we had our very first live show. There was dance, music, drumbeats and inspiring tech presentations on how we are combating the Covid-19 impact and ensuring the safety of our store associates and customers.

We believe we deliver our best from wherever we are, not just from the office. Today, it is a source of pride and inspiration to see our associates act together as one Walmart family in serving customers through such tumultuous times. We put our best foot forward to support the steep peak in the volume of sales, deploying assistance to frontline associates—all while working from home. We feel location is just a factor, not a quantum to deliver.

‘I don’t see the old model of all employees working from office ever coming back’
Sandeep Kishore, CEO & MD, Zensar Technologies

hari vasudeo

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, we had a flex policy of allowing our employees to work from home thrice a month, if they needed it. Nobody was prepared for a hundred percent work from home, of course. Post Covid-19, this will become mainstream.

I don’t see the old model ever coming back. This pandemic will change industry forever. The whole philosophy of ‘work means working from office’ is done. Mainstream work will include a hybrid model. There will be a fundamental shift, and the chapter of 100 percent employees going back to work, is now closed.

To enable more meaningful interactions, at Zensar, we’ve mandated that all calls should be video calls. I haven’t touched my handset in a while. We recently did a company-wide Town Hall on video, with 10,000 employees, on Microsoft Teams. We’re keeping our employees engaged and constantly checking on them, and are conscious of bringing them together as much as we can through these tough times.

We have to be creative, personalise the WFH experience: Nivruti Rai, Country Head, Intel India and VP - Data Platforms Group, Intel Corporation 

nivruti rai

Almost all of Intel India has been working from home through the lockdown, and I can tell you we’ve been doing it quite efficiently. Having said that, it has not been easy—there are more things we need to do to enable WFH successfully. For instance, we need to find ways to personalise interactions and build relationships, as you would over chai at the office.

co-working
I realised that almost everyone is working longer hours from home, blurring the lines between work time and home time, and without taking those breaks that you would in an office. So, we have now started to do casual virtual get-togethers—where we chat about our families, exercise, have cooking discussions or even play antakshari—and are beginning to realise their importance. We’re all going to have to be creative to adjust to this new environment.

The new tomorrow, even after the pandemic, will be entirely different. I, for instance, will be much freer in giving people the choice to work remotely. We’ll be reliant on technology for the most basic things—for health care (telemedicine); for communication, both personal, professional, even educational; for retail; and in how we work.

Not only is our work more efficient but if even 30 percent people work from home, that’s 30 percent less traffic, 30 percent less pollution, 30 percent lower probability of accidents. Workplace harassment of all kinds will reduce. Gender challenges will be fewer, as technology will enable us to bring in more women.

The pandemic will have reset all the assumptions we have made in the past. Even for the naysayers, tech adoption will be the building block of life.

Click here to see Forbes India's comprehensive coverage on the Covid-19 situation and its impact on life, business and the economy​

(This story appears in the 22 May, 2020 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Surbhi Koul

    I realized that almost everyone is working longer hours from home (including me and my husband), blurring the lines between work time and home time, and without taking those breaks that you would in an office and with this approach, i analyzed that work life balance is completely damaged. Many people will oppose this by saying it is upto you how you\'ll manage your time but that\'s not true. I\'ll give you my example only, I am working as an HR Consultant and everyday i stay late with my laptop so that i can cover maximum part of my work and when i finally shut down my machine, i only feel like sleeping and nothing else. There would be many advantages of working for home for sure but for me , it is not working.

    on May 8, 2020
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