More work from home, hot-desking: How India Inc will reboot after lockdown

Working from home helps companies save rental and maintenance costs
More people working from home may perhaps be the single-biggest and lasting change to emerge from the global lockdown. If you think this is hyperbole, Tata Consultancy Services is looking at having 75 per cent of its employees working from home by 2025. It is this target that will inform the information technology (IT) giant’s plans for building future capacity and infrastructure.

RBL Bank has already moved 75 per cent of its employees to operate remotely during the lockdown and is now exploring working from home, hot-desking (multiple workers using a single workstation at different times), and working from distributed locations as permanent solutions.

 
Working from home helps companies save rental and maintenance costs. 

Says Amit Ramani, chairman of NCube, which designs and builds corporate interiors for corporate, and chief executive officer of Awfis, a co-working company: “In the US, about 4 per cent of employees currently work from home. In India, it is around 1 per cent of 50-million white-collar workers.  We expect this percentage to go up to 10-12 per cent after lockdown.”  

 
That is not the only change Covid-19 will ring in. 

Offices will be more dispersed across a city instead of being consolidated in one building. Contactless pathways powered by motion sensors and facial recognition technology operating through your mobile will ensure you rarely touch surfaces, such opening doors or picking up coffee from the vending machine. Smart lifts holding fewer people could be ‘hailed’ through mobile phones rather than pressing buttons.

The office desk may become larger to create social distancing.  

The popular biometric attendance system will be replaced by mobile devices and geotagging (to show people are in the office). Air conditioners will be powered by N95 filters, so that they can reduce the scope of infections. After decades of open plan offices being the norm, some predict that more partitions between people and departments may be introduced, although open offices are not going to disappear. Co-working spaces, built specifically for close interactions, will have to be remodelled.

Work from home is gaining traction in a surprisingly wide array of sectors. 

RPG Enterprises has diverse businesses, including tyres, transmission, pharma, and IT.  S Venkatesh, president, group HR, RPG Enterprises, says nearly 70 per cent of its employees come to work on public transport. “We are seriously looking at reducing the number of days they work in the office from, say, 22 to 10, in multiple departments as a permanent feature,” said Venkatesh.

He said work is also on to change seating arrangements for employees from different departments to sit together rather than from just one department so that, if one worker in a department falls sick, the whole department does not have to be quarantined. Nippon Paint (India), an automotive paints company, is thinking of closing its Mumbai office and letting its sales office work from home or use co-working space when required. “We have been happy with the productivity in work from home. 

 

Closing our sales office in Mumbai will save costs. Real estate in Mumbai is expensive,” said Sharad Malhotra, president, Nippon Paint (India). Many IT companies are looking to remodel their workspace. Rather than have large numbers working from one building with lots of seats, they are considering dispersed locations with fewer seats and mapping their employees to identify clusters where they have homes.

Mumbai-based Smartworks, a co-working space for enterprises, has caught on to this new opportunity and is redesigning its seating to maintain social distancing as well as well as ensuring safety and hygiene requirements. Its founder Neetish Sarda said around 15 per cent of its current clients are in IT and Banking and are in advanced talks with Smartworks for space in various locations across a city as it already offers co-working facilities. “There are two advantages. 

Employees don’t have to traverse long distances even when public transport is opened and if someone is infected in one of the centres, the whole building does not have to close down. So, there is flexibility,” said Sarda. Sarda concedes that his margins per seat will go down due to the increase in costs to make the place Covid-19-ready but this is how co-working players are remodelling their spaces.  

Other companies are also cashing in on the new opportunities. Ramani, for instance, is offering a package to corporates and individuals to set up and maintain an office at home ranging between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 a month. This will include a table, an office chair on lease (not part of the monthly package), fibre broadband, enterprise software, including antivirus and IT support, free printing, and credits that can go towards using its co-working infrastructure. Says Ramani: “We hope to sell at least 50,000 packages in the next few months and queries have come not only from IT and banking but from over-the-top platforms, media companies, and even traditional businesses.” 

Yet the consequence of moving the office and work to homes, especially by IT companies, could have a serious adverse financial impact on commercial properties, a sector that was doing well before the lockdown. Last year, over 40 per cent of the leasing of new space was by IT and IT enabled services companies. If they shift en masse to working from home, the commercial space market could collapse. 

Real estate players are already being pushed to renegotiate rentals downwards.  

Says Jimmy Mistry, chairman and managing director of Della Group, which is in hospitality, design, and real estate: “Commercial property will be in deep crisis and some real estate players are thinking of alternative uses such as for health care.”



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