Having tasted the flexibility and commute-less convenience of working from home, a section of white-collar employees do not want to return to offices at all even after the pandemic ends, prompting many to consider changing jobs if forced to return.
While it's still early days as companies have not started calling employees back, metros Delhi and Mumbai, which house several big firms, have decided to allow private offices to function at 50 per cent capacity.
Pandemic or not, what's the point of wasting so much time commuting when the job can be done from home and in a more productive way, employees ask.
"I don't have to set aside time to get ready for work, book a cab or travel to work. I save around three hours of commute time, which is huge in a 9-5 working day," said a Delhi-based user experience designer working with a leading e-commerce app.
Working from home (WFH) also saves her time spent on longer lunches with colleagues, lets her nap when she wants to and gives her a comfortable environment to work in, she adds. "Ours was an open plan office and we had to find a seat for ourselves every day."
"I will definitely leave if they force me to return. I'm already looking for options anyway." She is confident that the UX design industry has plenty of opportunities, with remote work opening up opportunities abroad as well. "I'm sure some company will be willing to offer me remote working."
Not many may quit at once when asked to return to office, but several of them BT spoke to said they would renegotiate working arrangements with the HR manager. If all else fails, looking for another job, which permits remote work is the way ahead, employees admitted.
"If asked to come back, I have to go back. But there is the option of finding another job in Bengaluru with remote options. The next job I look for will definitely be one with a remote option," said a 26-year-old investment manager, who has moved to Mandya, a small town some 120 kilometres away from Bengaluru, to be with his family.
"I used to travel for 3 hours on an average every day for work. I give that time to family and personal needs."
Just before the second wave of the pandemic took over the country in April, major companies had begun chalking up plans to call employees back. But the resistance from employees may require companies to rethink their strategies this time around in order to avoid costly attrition.
To be sure, those open to switching jobs belong to fields such as IT, e-commerce, marketing, investment management, user interface design, data sciences etc, whose digital quotient makes them suitable for remote working.
These professional areas also see a much better job market, despite the pandemic, compared to other industries like manufacturing, travel and tourism among others. Meanwhile, there are still several jobs that require physical presence in the office.
A latest CMIE report pegs 15 million jobs were lost in May 2021 alone. This is second only to April 2020 when 114 million jobs were lost during a complete nationwide lockdown. But hiring has not picked up uniformly across sectors, experts said.
Further, still others prefer going to office once the pandemic wanes because WFH has blurred lines between work and life, sucked out the scope for social connections, networking and organic and informal learning. Yet, several women, especially working mothers, said the flexibility that WFH has afforded them trumps the many disadvantages it has brought in.
A 35-year-old data scientist with a leading oil and gas company calls it a difficult option if asked to return to office. She has had to take a few career breaks already because of her husband's transferable job and to care for her 5-year-old. She moved to Mumbai a few months ago, while her workplace is in Chennai.
"I am keen on progressing in my career. So, I'll forfeit 5-10% of my pay to continue WFH until I find another job that permits remote working for a long time, if it comes to that. Besides, data sciences is a thriving field. I'll find another job," she said.
ABC Consultants managing director Shiv Agrawal said he has been seeing many requests on professional networking site LinkedIn for fully remote roles, which was not the case before. "Typically, manufacturing firms will lead the pack in calling employees even in non-factory roles back to office because that's what happened in the previous wave. But mostly, it will depend on how leaders of the organisation think."
Also read: How Productive is Work From Home?
Meanwhile, recruiting firm Randstad India has seen a trend of borderless employment opportunities, where in the past few months employees have asked if they can work for a company abroad but remotely. "These are for mid- and senior-level roles in Europe, North America, Singapore and Hong Kong across the entire gamut of tech roles like AI, app development, machine learning, creative roles like web design, consulting, functional roles like HR, marketing and communications," said Sanjay Shetty, head of strategic account management.
But he said employees quitting because of lack of remote working options is unlikely to hit attrition rates because most organisations will be considerate and accommodative. "In a post-pandemic world, less than 35-40 per cent of the entire workforce in India may be fully remote," he said.