Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How companies are making work from office attractive

Afternoon naps, wellness bonuses, employees being flown in every quarter, and biannual appraisals—firms are pulling out all the stops to lure employees back to the workplace

Anubhuti Matta
Published: May 6, 2022 02:07:59 PM IST
Updated: May 6, 2022 07:57:14 PM IST

How companies are making work from office attractiveWith the third wave of Covid-19 on the wane, corporates have switched back to working from office with most senior level staff reporting to the office at least twice a week Illustration: Chaitanya Dinesh Surpur

Advocates of power naps, which made a comeback in the work-from-home way of life, are worried about what will happen to them once they are called back to office.

But for those working with Wakefit, there’s no reason to be concerned. The D2C home-and-sleep solutions startup recently announced a ‘right to nap at work’ designating 2 pm to 2.30 pm as official nap time for all its employees. It is also working towards creating cozy nap pods and quiet rooms in the office to build the perfect nap environment, the company said in the statement that went viral on social media.  

“Research shows that afternoon naps help with memory, concentration, creativity and productivity,” says Wakefit co-founder Chaitanya Ramalingegowda. “We wanted to encourage afternoon naps, not make it a taboo topic. We certainly hope more companies will adopt this in the future as the reactions have gone viral with employees tagging their HR heads on social media. It shows that normalising rest or afternoon naps was a necessary step, and not something to be frowned upon.”

With the third wave of Covid-19 on the wane, corporates have switched back to working from office with most senior level staff reporting to the office at least twice a week. However, the question being pondered over by corporates is how to get their employees back to office without it becoming a reason for them to quit.

The answer lies in perks and incentives that will probably become the new normal to attract and retain talent.

Child care, well-being and more

There’s much more in store than normalising afternoon naps.

TravClan, a B2B travel platform, not only moved to a more centrally located Connaught Place in Delhi from Rajendra Place to help the team save on commute time but also realised that while the cost of living in metro cities has continued to rise, salaries at entry level roles have not kept pace. So the firm decided to make the minimum salary for employees of all grades Rs 40,000 to help them feel secure about their personal well-being and finance.

Additionally, to ensure that people grow faster in their careers, the company conducts appraisals every six months.

“Faster cycles help the team get faster feedback and grow in their careers,” says Arun Bagaria, co-founder. “With these policies, we have tried to stay away from swaying people by offering short-term incentives. Rather, we have focused on helping team members feel imbibed in our culture as we believe that building a good culture and team is critical to the long-term success of an organisation,” he adds.

Vaishali Chhetri, an operations associate at TravClan, can’t help but feel motivated. “I joined only about a month ago, I haven’t even got my first salary yet, but I got the good news that I’ll be getting a hike of 53 percent. I think now I can spend as well as save,” she says.

CommerceIQ, a retail ecommerce management platform, besides continuing to keep the work-from-anywhere option available, has now also started sponsoring travel and accommodation for team members to “experience the dynamic and lively atmosphere of the working spaces”, according to its HR director Jyoti Gauri. “This encourages employees to huddle, get on white-board sessions, and get face time with the leadership. As a result, employees learn from each other, improve work collaboration, and most importantly, feel connected with people and the culture. It helps gain trust and discipline,” she adds.

While some organisations began working from office in October last year, science and technology firm Merck India sent out the back-to-office memo only in February 2022 for employees to join by May, to give them adequate time to return to their base location. “We saw a very good turnout of employees in April itself,” says Shiv Kumar, HR head. “This was encouraging as it wasn’t a mandate, but employees chose to be back to meet their colleagues and friends at work.”

It is a fact that during the pandemic women did a lot of heavy-lifting, balancing both work and their families. Considering it was important to provide support wherever possible, the organisation has revised its childcare policy offering a reimbursement of childcare expense for two children up to the age of nine years for female employees, as compared to the statutory six years mandated by the government.

 “We have also strengthened our talent development opportunities by providing unlimited access to learning content, so employees can connect and upskill where and when they want to,” adds Kumar.

Also recognising the impact of the pandemic on mental health and wellness, MiQ, a programmatic media partner to marketers and agencies, also lay stress on an employee’s holistic wellness. Therefore, all full-time employees are being given a monetary benefit of Rs 20,000 to be utilised on any well-being subscription of their choice rather than spending it only on a gym membership.

The company has also launched a relocation bonus policy for employees. Under it, Rs 1 lakh as a one-time payment will be given to help bear relocation costs, along with reimbursements for food and travel. “We believe working from office provides opportunities for our employees to work closely with diverse candidates coming from different backgrounds,” says Ramya Parashar, COO.

Another company, solar power generation firm Su-vastika Solar, keeping in mind the safety aspect of its employees, has offered its blue-collar workers a bus transport facility, and is planning to buy motorcycles for the sales team, EMIs of which will be paid by the company.

In demand–transport, health services

App-based bus service startup Cityflo has seen business pick up, especially after the third wave, with ridership growing by 150 percent in the first quarter of 2022 itself. “We are now the largest we have ever been, growing 20 percent every month. We are expanding our fleet capacity by 40 percent in the next 10 weeks to meet the growing demand of our services,” says Jerin Venad, co-founder. While it engages with customers directly, serving over 10,000 every month across the top 12 commercial hubs in Mumbai, their B2B vertical is also seeing a significant rise now that companies are looking to help employees overcome basic problems such as traveling to work, Venad informs.

Also in massive demand is telemedicine as employers are looking to make healthcare more flexible and accessible. There is a need to provide a hybrid model of care both virtually in the form of telemedicine and in person, via onsite medical personnel, says Elwin Singh, co-founder, Connect and Heal, an integrated healthtech company.

Singh’s firm is providing flexible OPD-related care that comprises on-site occupational health management, an in-person network of clinics and hospitals for near-site needs and virtually integrated telemedicine for all aspects of care outside the workplace.

“With everyone returning to work, vaccination camps, health screenings and the utilisation of the health clinics on the office premises have also been growing steadily,” adds Singh.

Design matters

The key to getting employees back to their workplace is positive motivation and focusing on a ‘pull’ rather than a ‘push’ strategy, says Akshay Lakhanpal, CEO-India, Space Matrix, a multinational design consultancy that is getting multiple queries from clients looking at bringing back employees to the workplace.

The strategy should focus on creating incentives for an employee that are compelling enough and would also comprise features that really helped work from home—micro environments to help change the pace of work and allocate mind space, ability to move to the terrace, lawn, balcony to reflect or for time off, Lakhanpal elaborates.

“There is a clear need to provide crèche, relaxation rooms. These functional and psychological needs, if addressed, would cater to the needs of most employees and provide them a pertinent reason to get back,” he adds.

Although returning to the workplace has been a running theme for the past two years, or rather after every wave, real estate experts are seeing companies opening the office with greater fervour only now.

The average monthly rentals in fiscal year 2021-2022 in the top seven cities—Mumbai, Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata—saw a 1 percent rise as against the preceding fiscal, according to real estate consultancy firm Anarock. In terms of leasing activity, the net absorption in FY 2021-2022 saw a 60 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

“Employees’ return definitely bodes well for the commercial real estate sector,” says Anuj Puri, chairman, Anarock Property Consultants.

However, companies can overcome employees’ reluctance to resume office by making new-age offices that will promote health, safety, protection and wellness through various facets, believes Ramesh Nair, India CEO and managing director-Asia at real estate consultancy Colliers.

“Companies will need to focus on what an employee will want in the workplace and occupiers are showing a clear preference for next-generation offices,” Nair adds.

Further, there will be immense scope for landlords to upgrade existing facilities. Colliers estimates that landlords and developers can upgrade around 100 million square feet of office space in the top six cities, accounting for 14 percent of the existing stock. Retrofitting of buildings is crucial and can fetch as much as 20 percent increase in rents for developers or landlords. “Upgradation should make these offices more attractive to occupiers and that will ultimately result in increased rents, lower vacancy levels, high-tech buildings and sustainability benefits such as reduction in carbon emissions,” says Nair.

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