2020 is certainly meant to be etched out in the history of mankind as a year of sorts. As ‘Social distancing’ was identified globally as the only weapon to fight the intriguing COVID-19 pandemic, businesses were in a fix. Organizations of all sizes and nature were forced to pull down their shutters overnight to ensure safety of their employees. Switching to a remote working model was the only option available to survive and sustain. Remote work, network and connectivity, security protocols, firewall, data security became the buzzwords in the business world. Corporates that had an existing remote-working model in their system faced the challenge of extending it to include their entire workforce. Others who did not have a remote –working model had no choice, but to adapt for business continuation.
Almost a month after the lockdown was first implemented, work from home is today the new norm, and is bound to continue for a couple more weeks for a vast majority of the Indian workforce. This is a big leap in business transformation practices that no economic expert would have foreseen in the near future. What would have otherwise taken more time and efforts to experiment and implement had been forced upon organizations. The irony is that it took a pandemic to force organizations to shift towards a model that has the potential to emerge as the future of work. The scale at which it has been tested and put to use currently would never have been possible otherwise.
In what has come as a welcome move, India’s largest IT employer Tata Consultancy Services with a global workforce of approximately 450,000 people (more than 75% of which comprises the Indian workforce) has made a historical announcement. TCS introduced their new work model 25/25, wherein by year 2025 only 25% of the total workforce would be required at their office premises, and each employee will spend only about 25% of their working time at office. Before the lockdown, only 20% of TCS workforce worked remotely. During the lockdown, TCS had made effective use of their in-house platform Secure Borderless Workspaces (SBWS), which enabled them to conduct more than 35000 meetings.
The benefits that organizations can reap include the need for lesser office space, reduced spend on utilities and maintenance, better business agility (particularly in times of natural disasters) and lesser attrition if the employees’ needs are identified and appropriately addressed. This further deepening of TCS’s remote working model will have important implications for all of the Indian workforce, as other corporates will look up to emulate this model, if proven successful. If implemented effectively and in the right way, employee productivity could also be increased gradually. As a country, concerted efforts in this direction will lead to larger benefits in terms of carbon footprint and climate change impact.
How the average employee who is used to working full time in an office atmosphere will react to this major shift will have to be seen. The benefits could include a reduction in employees’ costs and time spent in daily commute and traffic and more flexibility to accommodate personal needs (like attending to kids or elders). The cons include distractions and inability to concentrate at home, network and connectivity issues, feeling disengaged and physically disconnected.
There are numerous research studies depicting that the flexibility options offered by employers is not sufficient to meet the flexibility requirements of employees. Except in the IT and certain other select industries, flexibility options in terms of time and location of work are not widespread in Indian organizations. This has traditionally been one of the reasons why many women who are professionally qualified and experienced hesitate to return to work after their maternity break, and continues to be the primary reason for women receding from the workplace. Increased remote working options could make available a huge talent pool of such trained professionals.
It will be interesting to note how this new model emerges into a full-fledged strategy in due course. A blended model is definitely here to stay. Organizations may identify certain roles which will be converted into remote roles, wherein physical presence at office would be minimal. Alternatively, people may be allowed to work remotely for predefined times or on rotation basis, based upon the requirements of each role.
In engineering terminology, a black box model is a system which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs, without knowledge of its internal architecture. Until the test results of the remote working models adopted are released, this system will continue to be similar to a black box, where each organization follows practices that are best suited to their structure, systems and immediate requirements. Once the lockdown is relaxed and corporates begin normal operations, many more test results and success stories will come to fore, and will be discussed in board rooms. The strategies that emerge will dictate whether the first mover advantage will be more beneficial to those who choose to wait and learn from the lessons learnt by the first movers.
The future of work is evolving at an unbelievable pace and will continue to impact the way we live and lead our work lives.