Back to the office: New challenges await IT companies as employees return

The IT services industry is slowly opening up offices after a lengthy Covid-induced hiatus. But employees now seen apprehensive about coming back and are raising a new set of demands

As attrition rises, Wipro to hit campuses to hire record 30,000 freshers

For employees around the world, the onset of the pandemic and subsequent shutting of offices in March last year was beyond their belief. All of them wondered how things would work out. And now, over 19 months later, when things have actually turned out well, the gradual opening of offices is yet again posing a challenge before them. Some are raring to go back to the office, while others are preferring the comfort of home. The employers and the HR are also grappling with some tough questions. Will the transition be smooth again, let us try to find out
What the employees want

  • Most employees want hybrid culture, flexibility to work from home and office both 
  • 40% employees expect to work from office premises only up to three days a week
  • A big chunk also wants to work from office
With the Covid-19 infection ebbing, IT companies around the world have started opening offices. In India, IT firms are also following the suit as employees are being called back to offices in a phased manner. A joint survey by tech industry body Nasscom and job listing portal Indeed found that employees and employers are equally interested in returning to offices. But 40% of the employees expect to work from office premises only up to three days a week.
It all has also triggered a debate about what is the best way to work and does working from home affect productivity. A large chunk of workers is now expecting a hybrid work culture where they have the freedom to work from both the places. According to the Nasscom survey, hybrid work is the preferred choice of over 70% of organisations. The work from home culture has also helped employees save on travelling time and costs. Not just this, many also saved on rent as then moved from metros to their hometowns to live with their parents. Companies are trying to strike a balance between the needs of the employees and also those of their clients.
How return to office will help employers 
  • Manage critical business function
  • Maintain organisational culture
  • Maintain data security
From the companies’ perspective, a return to office will help manage critical business functions, maintain organizational culture and data security. So, as the restrictions eased, Google announced a 25% salary cut for those opting to work from home, a step apparently taken to bring all the workers back to office. Most IT companies in India have also started calling employees back to the office. Companies also hope that it will reduce workers’ ability to attend job interviews with ease, making it difficult for them to switch jobs. The IT industry is facing attrition rates as high as 30%.
The cautious approach
  • TCS - Workers to be back in base cities by November 15
  • Infosys - Senior leaders are in office once a week
  • HCL - 5-6% of staff returned to offices
  • Wipro - Fully vaccinated senior staff can come to work twice a week
The IT companies have also saved a lot during the pandemic due to the reduced bills of electricity, Internet and that of transport. But they are also facing several challenges including managing the key business functions.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the country’s largest IT services player, has told all its employees to be back at their deputed cities by November 15. TCS is encouraging most of its employees to return by the end of this year before gradually switching to the 25/25 model, under which only 25% of its half-a-million global workforce will be in office at any point of time by 2025.
Infosys has asked senior leaders to come to the office at least once a week. It is preparing to have a larger population come to office. Its COO Pravin Rao said the company is working on a model that provides flexibility to employees. 5-6% of HCL employees have returned to offices while fully vaccinated senior staff at Wipro can come to work twice a week. According to the Nasscom survey, 50% of the workforce is likely to return to offices for up to three days a week starting next year. But most IT firms have now said that their leaders have begun to travel internationally for client meetings. 
Specialist staffing company Xpheno’s Co-founder Kamal Karanth gave some valuable insights into the thought process of IT employees and their companies. He said:
  • Staff want to come to office only for a change of setting
  • Leadership prefers working out of office
  • WFH gives flexibility to switch jobs
  • Employees may prefer companies providing flexibility
  • Getting people back for five days a week will be a struggle
  • Firms believe in-office work can be even more productive
Rituparna Chakraborty, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of staffing firm Teamlease Services, said the work from home arrangement might not continue after the pandemic. He added:
  • No clear verdict right now
  • Teamlease survey shows 57% want hybrid working model
  • WFH reduced social capital of employees
  • WFH blurred boundaries between work and personal spaces
  • Pandemic obligated remote work, productivity may not sustain long-term
While a consensus among the employers has not been reached regarding the work style they may adopt, a clearer picture will emerge when a majority of the employees return to office over the next few months.