Flipkart and Amazon play against Coronavirus, test work from home

Amazon has also set up a global relief fund keeping in mind the health of its employees, sources added.
With the outbreak of coronavirus in India, top e-commerce companies including Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon are testing out the future of work, and are telling their employees to do their jobs from home.

While Amazon India has begun a dry-run for work from home, Flipkart has told its 10,000 odd staff at its Bellandur campus in Bengaluru to work offsite for three days as a part of a pilot project for business continuity. Flipkart is checking system preparedness for working remotely using digital and video tools, according to the people familiar with the matter. The e-commerce firm has made it compulsory for its employees who operate out of its corporate headquarters located in Bellandur to work from home, starting Wednesday for three days.

“It is being run as a pilot and this might become a playbook about how to work from home in such scenarios (coronavirus outbreak),” a person with knowledge about Flipkart’s strategy said. The person said that given that there are millions of customers and lakhs of sellers dependent on Flipkart, asking employees to work from home is part of a plan to tackle any future eventuality like the coronavirus outbreak.

“Their systems are designed to operate in such situations, but they wanted to make sure to ‘pressure test the whole system’,” said the executive. “The company is letting its engineers operate from home, making sure they have the bandwidth and secured connectivity (virtual private network) which can solve problems in the same manner as they are solving at the head office.”

The firm is promoting the use of video conferences for meetings, including job interviews, and are temporarily avoiding events and training programmes that require large gatherings. “In fact, Kalyan (Krishnamurthy, CEO, Flipkart Group) himself comes on Google Hangouts couple of times a day to take stock of the situation and things like pricing, supply, technology and wellbeing of the employees,” said a person.

However some Flipkart employees felt they are not yet fully-prepared for a work for home policy. “I feel my productivity could drop if I work remotely,” said one of employee requesting anonymity.

Amazon has also begun a work from home pilot for its employees in Bengaluru, according to sources. A few teams have been asked to login from home to check the level of preparedness of the systems at the company.

Amazon employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine will also receive up to two-weeks of pay, said the company. “This additional pay while away from work is to ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost pay,” said Amazon in a blogpost. 

The US-headquartered company has also set up a $25 million global fund called the Amazon Relief Fund keeping in mind the health of its employees. “It will be focused on supporting our independent delivery service partners and their drivers, Amazon Flex participants, and seasonal employees under financial distress during this challenging time,” added Amazon. 

Infrared thermometers are being used at entry points at the World Trade Center in Bengaluru where Amazon operates out of, to check the body temperatures of visitors and staff. “Our teams are on high alert and are diligently monitoring the situation. We have not had a single suspected case so far,” said Vineet Verma, President of World Trade Center, at Bengaluru, Kochi and Chennai.

B2B unicorn Udaan has also advised people to work from home whereas some employees who continue to come to the workplace are mandatorily encouraged to wear face masks.

Food tech platform Swiggy has not yet come out with a mandatory work from home policy but said that employees have the liberty to do so if they wish to. “We are testing it out and will see how things pan out if employees are working from home. Primarily this week, the footfall of employees has reduced in our offices,” said a company spokesperson. Swiggy has around 2,500 employees in Bengaluru.

Walmart-owned digital payments firm PhonePe has also initiated a WFH policy. “Most teams have been asked to WFH until further notice. Employees in a few critical functions, have been asked to come to the office on a rotational basis,” said a PhonePe official.

Increase in the number of Covid-19 affected patients in the country has caused panic among office goers. MoveInSync, an employee transportation management company, did a deep dive in the daily commute data of thousands of employees that use the service in some of the major cities to understand the impact of Coronavirus scare. It said, while Hyderabad and Bengaluru were severely affected, NCR seemed to be rather unperturbed by the scare. Hyderabad was the worst hit where about 9 per cent fewer people chose to travel to the office last week. Bengaluru came a close second and “is consistently getting worse,” said MoveInSync. The IT city saw about 8 per cent of regular office goers dropping out of their regular commute.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel