28-year-old Nita Das has worked in the HR department of a leading fashion retailer for the last five years. Like any other retail sector employee, it was mandatory for Das to get to report at work every morning at 10 am and not sign off until six in the evening. Working from home was never an option either for Das or anybody else in the organisation. The last one week, however, has been an aberration for Das and many of her colleagues. Her organisation for the first time has asked them to work from home due to the COVID-19 panic, and to her utter surprise the management of her company is actually considering to offer employees not just working from home option, but also a variety of other flexible work options. "It was unimaginable for a retail company to offer flexi work options," she says.
COVID-19 could bring about a paradigm shift in workplace practices. Saundarya Rajesh, MD of HR services company Avtar Group, says 58 per cent of Indian companies are not comfortable with remote working. "They neither have protocols in place, nor do they have infrastructure like laptops which they need to give their employees who would want to work remotely." Rajesh is confident that post COVID-19 flexibility would become a way of life at many workplaces. "Senior leaders who had never attempted to work from home are now forced to do so and they are actually finding it efficient," adds Rajesh.
Lalit Agrawal, MD of value fashion retail company, V-Mart, says that this is the first time in his working career that he has worked from home. "I have never been so focused before. I see that in my employees too. Work is getting done much faster now." Though Agrawal doesn't confirm, he does hint that he is considering to offer his employees the flexibility to work from wherever they want to.
Allowing employees to work from home or offering them flexible working hours can save anywhere between 20-25 per cent costs for a company, says Sasmita Mohanty, CHRO (South Asia), of French conglomerate, Bollore International Logistics. Mohanty says that COVID-19 will bring about a mindset change in terms of how organisations are structured. "The entire mindset that an employee needs to come to office to take major decisions will be challenged. It may be early days, but the COVID-19 isolation has certainly made businesses realise that there indeed are more cost-effective ways of doing business," she adds.
Does the sales team which typically spends most of its time in the market really need to come to office everyday? Or, does the senior leadership need to necessarily travel to various locations for meetings, can't some of them be done through a video conference? These are some of the questions that are increasingly likely to come up. "Do we need large offices, can't some of the employees work remotely? The ways of doing business will be re-looked," points out Angel Investor and Business Strategist, Lloyd Mathias.
Mohanty says companies could even look at outsourcing certain roles in order to reduce costs of operating business. "In HR itself, one can easily outsource functions like talent acquisition, mentoring, talent development and appraisals. Companies can even outsource functions like legal, which has fat salaried people." By offering flexible working hours, companies could also reduce their salary bills. "An employee seeking flexible timings will not need to work 8-9 hours. He/she works for 4-5 hours and gets compensated accordingly," Mohanty further explains.
Rajesh of Avtar links flexibility with diversity. "Most women and even people with disabilities want flexibility. If organisations start accepting flexibility, work-places will also have more diversity."
Allowing employees to work from home or giving them flexible timings is not entirely new. Large organisations such as Unilever, Nestle and others are already offering such facilities to their employees, but they are far and few.