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Coronavirus: Health scare forces work from home, but is India Inc ready?

India Inc has embraced remote working because of a health scare. But there are important lessons on enabling infrastructure, managing remote teams and ensuring productivity...

Viveat Susan Pinto 

While companies are struggling to understand the full implications of remote engagement, compensation packages could undergo a change in the future, say experts | File photo
While companies are struggling to understand the full implications of remote engagement, compensation packages could undergo a change in the future, say experts | File photo

Anubhav Srivastava, 38, an employee of Axis Bank in Mumbai, has never worked from home in his professional life. He now is. The scare, which has forced businesses and ordinary citizens to limit interaction and maintain social distance, has meant that Srivastava, who manages corporate and institutional banking, now has to do everything he otherwise did in office, at home. “This is hardly easy,” he says. “I’m used to meeting people every day while I’m at office. I can’t do this at home. The second challenge is of handling varied tasks. There are people coming home, calls to take at the same time, paper work to wrap up, coordinating with colleagues and team members. I am slowly but steadily getting used to this,” he says. Srivastava is just one among many in corporate India today who are grappling with a new normal — of working from home for a sustained period of time. While India’s growing millennial population has advocated the idea of work-life balance and remote engagement for years together, for many others, work-from-home is a largely untested idea. Kavil Ramachandran, clinical professor and executive director, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business, says that organisations need to be alert and empathetic to the needs of employees working from home. “There are two dimensions to this. One is that have to be prepared technologically and the second aspect is of being psychologically prepared. As things stand now, the preparation is not complete at both ends. are learning through trial and error and I see significant changes in how business will be done from here on. Everything today is geared towards command and control in an office environment. All of that changes when you are working from home,” he says. While are struggling to understand the full implications of remote engagement, compensation packages could undergo a change in the future, say experts. Measuring productivity in appraisal processes could undergo a change as disruption sets into the workplace, says Ramachandran. Welcome to the new world order. Let us first look at the challenges for corporations and then at those at an individual level. There may not be clear answers yet but at least some guidelines are emerging. As Sumit Mitra, head, group HR and corporate services, Godrej Industries and Associate Companies, says, the challenges are particularly acute for manufacturing and old-economy businesses. “The safety of our employees matters the most and we gave the option of work-from-home for our office-bound staff a week ago. We have put all necessary safeguards in place at manufacturing units for our team members as well as our on-ground sales teams. No visitors are allowed in, entry and exit points are sanitised, high contact areas are disinfected. In addition, we’ve also given a special allowance to the field force to buy protective gear such as masks, hand sanitisers and hand wash while on the move,” he says. Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has gone a step further.

Four thousand of its office-bound staff including those in senior leadership roles, marketing, human resources, administration, supply chain and research across eight locations in the country began working from home from last Tuesday in an exercise that is expected to bring in significant learnings for the company. “We remain agile as an organisation and remote working is something that we practice as an organisation,” says Anuradha Razdan, executive director, HR, HUL. “However, this is an occasion where a large number of people are working from home at the same time. This requires coordination, dialogue and communication among team members and line managers. We have Microsoft teams in place as well as a helpline to address queries. Check-ins happen virtually and we have provided the infrastructure to employees to help them work while at home,” she says. Despite all this, getting people to work isn’t easy. As an executive with a blue-chip company says that the lines get blurred between personal and professional commitments and productivity does take a hit when working from home. His way out is to replicate his workplace routine at home. “I get up and get ready like I would do on a regular working day. I’ve converted my study table in the bedroom into my work station. This gives me the feeling that I am at work. I make calls and work on my laptop like I would do at work. I hope to carry on like this till the end of the stipulated period for work from home,” he says. Charu Sabnavis, executive coach, trainer and founder-director of Mumbai-based Delta Learning, says: “The concept of remote working is not new. There are many who’ve opted to work from home for their own individual reasons. But that is a choice they’ve exercised. In the current scenario, many have been forced to do it because of a looming health crisis. Coming to terms with this will take time and there are no easy answers,” she says.

WFH checklist to get started For corporations

  • Decide which roles can be remotely handled and train employees quickly on dos and don'ts of remote access
  • Set out a plan of action involving senior managers/section heads. This should be followed by all
  • Ensure infrastructure is available to all working from home. This includes laptops, softwares, passwords
  • Insist they are connected with line managers
  • Be sympathetic to their needs and requirements

For individuals

  • Separate workspace from home space; use noise-cancelling headphones if there is too much noise around
  • Have a clear understanding of productivity goals. Set a time table for work and personal commitments
  • Make sure you have necessary infrastructure. Laptop should be installed with software, network access and passcodes
  • Explain to family that you have deadlines and you are not on vacation
  • Be accessible; if email is leading to misunderstanding

First Published: Mon, March 23 2020. 00:29 IST