As Work from Home Is the ‘New Normal’, Is Traditional Office Dead?

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The pandemic has already put industries and employees of all sectors worldwide under unprecedented hardship. However, with the companies preparing a return to work in wake of recent relaxations in norms, albeit with a considerably lessened workforce, several questions beckon. And for these questions, Work from Home is the option which is set be the saviour, ushering in a paradigm shift in the office work culture.

India is no exception and the country is going through similar challenges. As the companies are quick to realise and accept the new-normal, Work from Home is the first move that every company has made to keep the ball rolling.

All such development leads us to a few questions that could have a far-reaching impact on the business world.

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  • With our changing realities, is Work from Home option for millions of tech professionals set to be the final nail in the coffin for traditional offices?
  • Is Work from Home a viable option for companies to keep the productive wave of IT employees continued?

Let’s find out!

Work from Home: The Era Has Arrived

The impact of COVID-19 has been immense, with rates of infection surging in India. The tally of +ve cases stands at 74,480 currently with over 2,415 dead. Given the atmosphere, employees are understandably hesitant to return to offices and public places. In such a dire scenario, every industry and company is looking at taking the work from home, aka WFH, route for as many of its services as possible.

Several offices of the $180 billion IT industry of India have started calling in employees since May 7, regulated by stringent health checkups. With the relaxed norms, Infosys re-opened its offices in Mangalore, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad, albeit with 5% of the workforce. TCS has more than 95% of its employees working from home with a little over 1% working out of offices. Capgemini plans to go operational with 10% of the total staff with more scheduled to be added as per the government’s guidelines.

TCS, being the bellwether among the Info scions, has already started putting the blocks for the future in place, claiming that 75% of its 3.5 lakh employee base will work from home by 2025.

“We call this philosophy 25×25, which means only 25 per cent of our employees may have to be in the office to ensure that 100% is productive,” said N Ganapathy Subramaniam, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director, TCS.

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Not only TCS, other biggies such as Tech Mahindra and Capgemini are also planning to move towards a more hybrid model, suggesting a permanent move towards it in the future. Other prominent companies like SAP Labs, Wipro and HCL Technologies have done the same, only calling employees’ working on critical projects while taking the necessary health precautions.  

While the changes in work culture were visible even before the pandemic set in, it is hard to deny that it has been a tipping point for all industries.

Traditional Office: Old School Now?

Be that as it may, instead of shying away from it, the industries have embraced the ‘new normal’ as it is being termed. In fact, it has identified it as not only a prospective long term solution but a golden opportunity in the guise, one of the very few positives which have emerged in the crisis. Initial scepticism from the boardrooms has paved ways to welcome Work from Home as a respectable and altruistic option, a deterrent against the huge revenue loss already incurred. The policy is expected to result in a 25% improvement in throughput, due to time saved in commuting, savings on real estate, reduced maintenance costs and even better-negotiated salaries.

A major sector which has emerged as a scoop up option for cutting costs is the office realty leasing. Data reveals that the share of the tech sector rose from 31% to 41% in 2019. Supply addition rose by more than 80% in 2019 YTD on an annual basis, with about 43.5 million sq. ft. of development completions reported. Four cities in the country, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, NCR and Mumbai accounted for almost 80% of this supply addition. The rates of leasing have similarly risen to astronomical proportions, with the companies forced into making the payouts.

The Perks Are Quite Apparent

However, with the WFH option in sight, a considerable slice of the cut could be employed in further strengthening those areas where the employers would encounter difficulty in setting up an office at home, such as equipment and network settings.

The Work from Home practice will also have a significant impact on the workforce and hiring style. It could allow for the hiring of more women, many of whose mobility is limited by at-home family obligations, and thereby expanding the talent pool.

In fact, companies are willing to pay more to work from home employees than ever before. The increasing number of work from home jobs is a clear indication that companies are actively looking beyond traditional office setup now.

Not only that, working from home enabled Mother Nature to breathe a little easy. With the move made permanent, it could result in lesser pollution, lesser carbon footprint and vehicular emission. It could save commuting costs and the hours spent to reach office. A greater work-life balance could be achieved, with flexibility and productivity among the biggest gains for both parties.

A Lot To Iron Out

All that said, the road to WFH is not without its challenges. The landlords and property owners have sought new regulations to prevent a sudden and sharp fall in office space occupancy.

Several property laws, municipal taxes, electricity, water and sewage charges are different for residential and office blocks – all of which could be leveraged to curb WFH after the pandemic.

Also, working from home might be a cause of concern for the residents if there is a gathering which overrules the rules of any residential area.

Network and Communication security is another aspect that could be one of the biggest challenges for companies to deal with. While overhead expenses of real estate, electricity, air conditioning, security, and pantry can be taken down, every office has its own secure network and equipment, the likes of which could take some time to set up, given the transition time by the companies.

Traditional office spaces could be regulated to function in fractions pertaining to specific tasks in rotation. Monitoring employee work hours is another aspect companies would have to look closely at.

But, even if those challenges persist and companies find it difficult to deal with those, there is no way companies can turn their back to Work from Home. The pandemic is far from over and reports have made it clear that it may take years for India to overcome those challenges caused by the novel Coronavirus.

Don’t Jump The Gun

Work from home certainly isn’t a one size fits all, as in regards to the aforementioned challenges, the mental health and related perks of the employee need also be kept in focus. Because, offices are made by the people. Creating a total workplace ecosystem is a matter of managing space, time and experience to create lasting value.

All said and done, it’s a bit too early to rub off traditional office from our slate. On one hand, Work from Home is the need of the hour that offers a lot many benefits to employees and companies. On the other hand, it comes with a number of challenges as well the far-reaching impact of those are yet to be seen.

When backed into a corner, it is imperative that we come up with innovative solutions that stand to benefit us in the long term. While traditional office spaces have occupied a large part of our lives, a best of both worlds approach, with people-centric decisions put at the centre of it, should be the way forward. If done right, it could throw up tremendous opportunities for both spheres in the coming future.

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