A well-oiled remote-working routine that enterprises can transition into whenever required without any disruption to business operations or productivity, a vaccinated workforce, the availability of booster shots, and an overall buoyancy in business sentiment have made India Inc. confident of facing an expected surge in Covid-19 cases in mid-January. “After seeing three waves, as a company and industry, we are all geared up to face any eventuality, to put anything into action even on short notice, in case the government issues any guidelines,” says Adhir Mane, Chief Human Resource Officer (Corporate) of Raymond Ltd. The conglomerate, with a workforce of 20,000 people across verticals, has a template ready for a variety of things—which roles are hybrid, which ones are required at the factory, what circulars and communications have to be sent out, etc. The company has already activated its network of doctors.
The government has warned that the next 40 days will be crucial. However, the new wave, the fourth since March 2020, is likely to be less severe, with fewer deaths and hospitalisations expected this time around. “It’s more wait-and-watch on the WFH guidance and travel policy as of now,” says Rajul Mathur, Consulting Leader, India (Work and Rewards); Strategic Sales Growth Leader, International (Work and Rewards) at Willis Towers Watson, a professional services firm.
Viswanath P.S., MD and CEO of staffing firm Randstad India, says companies in the hospitality, transport and real estate sectors are also exploring work-from-home options in case the fourth wave hits. For Larsen & Toubro, which has interests across engineering, construction, manufacturing, IT and financial services, remote working is not a feasible solution as a majority of its workforce is in the infrastructure/construction and EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) business. “However, we have ensured that our employees receive proactive medical care by setting up our own quarantine centres, hospital tie-ups, doctors on call, availability of nursing and care, supply of healthy and nutritious food, etc., across locations,” says C. Jayakumar, Executive VP and Head, Corporate HR at Larsen & Toubro.
The investments that enterprises have been making into tech such as Cloud, AI, automation and data analytics as part of their digital transformation journeys, have also prepared them to deal better with any employee concerns and disruptions. “Our focus has been to ensure that employees have instant access to information—such as mediclaim policy and insurance guidelines—that was much needed during Covid-19. So, our chatbot platform came to the forefront,” says Jayakumar. “Many HR heads are seeing demos of new-age HCM [human capital management] platforms. The main focus is on keeping productivity intact while working remotely,” says Sumit Sabharwal, CEO of TeamLease HRtech, the HCM vertical of TeamLease Services.
Even in industries where working remotely is not possible—such as manufacturing, logistics and healthcare—firms are using HCM solutions to ensure business continuity. “For instance, Oracle HCM Solutions is assisting healthcare providers like Apollo Hospitals Enterprises, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Omega Healthcare and many more in streamlining their workforce across business-working models,” says Shaakun Khanna, Vice President, HCM & SaaS Application Alliances, APAC at Oracle.
India’s high vaccination rate is inspiring confidence and rooting out scepticism among enterprises in dealing with any future waves of the Covid-19 virus. About 70 per cent of Indians are fully vaccinated, but only 27 per cent have taken the booster shot. The recent cases have been dominated by the Omicron sub variant BF.7, which studies show has a high transmission rate. Mumbai-based conglomerate RPG Enterprises has not reinstated any pandemic-era restrictions yet. “Our vaccinated numbers are quite high. We already have a post-pandemic, perpetual RPG Remote Working Policy in place that provides [employees] flexibility to be on WFH based on their work classification. Depending on their job, we allow up to 50 per cent WFH flexibility,” says S. Venkatesh, President (Group HR) of the RPG Group.
Countries including China, Japan, South Korea, the US and Brazil are witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases. The Indian government has made it mandatory for travellers from some of these countries to fill out the Air Suvidha Self Declaration forms before arriving. But official travel plans, domestic or international, have not been impacted so far, the experts say. “We are not creating unnecessary panic by telling employees not to travel. We will follow whatever requisite guidelines the authorities give out,” says Raymond’s Mane. Besides, the holiday season means that work-related travel is anyway at a minimum, points out Roopank Chaudhary, Partner & Chief Commercial Officer, HCM (India and South Asia) at Aon, a financial services firm . The only disconnect could be if employers feel there is no risk for employees to come into work but employees feel otherwise, he adds. “The alignment between employers and employees is key, but from the perspectives of processes, learnings and implementation, there should be no challenge.”
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