Tech giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have asked employees to continue working from home for the remainder of the year, setting the standard for what could be the new normal in the corporate world. Search engine (and multi-hyphenate) Google has extended its work-from-home (WFH) policy at least until next year, as CEO Sundar Pichai declared in the beginning of June.
Executives whose physical presence is essential to run things are resuming duties in a safe manner. The rest of the Google workforce has been advised to stay home and stay safe from COVID-19 infection since March.
Work-from-home in India
While most organisations in India were waiting to see if the immediate disruptions in the first phase of the lockdown were just a temporary phase, Dr Sumit Mitra, CEO of Tesco Global Services, had no such doubts. He ordered 1000 laptops for people working from home, transported office equipment (including furniture) to homes of employees, took permission from the Indian Government to operate an international business from home and quarantined his data service centres.
The result? Headquarters of Tesco, recognising the proactive steps taken by Sumit and his team, relied on them to cater to the gaps in delivery. Tesco Global Services business in India saw a 50% jump.
Work-from-home was not a part of the disaster recovery plan for most businesses. It required management principles to be clearly articulated. Some of their guiding principles for Tesco WFH policy in India included stopping random forwards on WhatsApp employee groups and focussing even more on the core purpose. More than ever, people need to feel that their work has meaning, it is not just a job. Their goal – “We have to feed the nations we serve.”
Guiding principles come to one’s aid when the situation is uncertain and unpredictable. For example, one Indian company had a guiding principle called ‘One Family’. When the CEO was asked when people would be able to start air travel or travel using public transport, his answer was: “When we are comfortable with an adult member of our family doing the same.”
Permanent work-from-home, a possibility
TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) has told 75% of its staff strength that the tech major will move to permanent remote working within the next 5 years. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who also heads payment gateway Square, has gone on to say that employees at both firms can work-from-home indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Facebook has taken into account coronavirus-related information from authoritative sources like CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and John Hopkins Institute. The social media giant has started devising permanent WFH policies for a majority of its staff. Facebook’s head honcho Mark Zuckerberg live-streamed a virtual meeting on his Facebook page where he made the statement that by 2030, half of the company’s workforce won’t have to go to office. However, there’s a catch. They may have to do without many of the perks and fat pay packages that came with the job.
Redefining business culture
With some of the world’s biggest companies devising permanent telecommuting policies, it won’t be long before the business culture does a volte-face, and work-from-home becomes the ‘new normal’. Industry body NASSCOM has said the IT industry must take a phased approach towards WFH. Remote working used to be relegated to coding and programming jobs, or part of the ‘flexible’ policies for pregnant staffers on maternity (or paternity) leave.
WFH mandates due to the lockdown have meant that companies are relooking at their traditional models for an overhaul that could also bring costs down. Real estate is a major component of expenditure. Add to that, amenities and employee benefits. For example, high-value firms invest heavily in keeping employees happy. As much as 60-65% of their fixed cost goes into maintaining plush offices, doling out conveyance allowance, running a gourmet cafeteria, and other amenities.
When executives work remotely and don’t end up consuming these resources, the firm saves on the cost. Compensation for business travel by air, hotel stays, reservations of conference rooms and other miscellaneous expenses are also spared. Remote working also gives recruiters a chance to hire better talent from other cities who couldn’t relocate.
No take-it-easy policy
Planning for long-term WFH would call for change in company policy with regard to paid leave, sick leave, overtime compensation etc. Management will also have to redefine work-from-home hours, conference call and email timings, and schedules so that workers have breathing space, and don’t get overwhelmed with their living space being turned into an office at all hours.
There are reports of employees sitting on the floor, staring at a computer screen for long hours without a break, not having reliable internet access and not having the privacy required to do sensitive work. Most organisations are yet to address the fundamental challenge – that homes have not been designed to be offices.
One of the biggest realizations that leaders now have is that the key role in ensuring that all employees are connected with the organization lies with the line manager. Remote working means that the line manager has become the key driver to connect, inspire and develop employees. There will have to be new rules for compensation and people management, job roles and team co-ordination. Long-term or permanent work-from-home is a hit and miss opportunity. How well companies plan for it will decide how fruitful it turns out to be.