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India’s IT sector is missing signs of the future of work

Currently, major IT firms like TCS, Infosys, and Wipro have implemented varying rules regarding work from the office. TCS, for instance, requires its employees to be presentin the office five days a week, reflecting a more traditional and stringent approach to in-person work.

In contrast, Infosys offers a more flexible arrangement, with employees expected to come to the office forjust 10 days a month. Wipro strikes a balance by mandatingthree days a week in the office, allowing for some remote work. These differing policies reflect the ongoing debate within the industry about the optimal balance between in-person and remote work.

The struggle of technology firms to bring employees back to the office post-Covid-19 is a complex issue. On one hand, HR departments emphasise the need for employees to return to the workplace, often using threats of disciplinary action to enforce compliance. They argue that the physical office space fosters collaboration, teamwork, and facilitates culture building.

However, the traditional emphasis on employees’ physical presence in the office overlooks several crucial factors. First and foremost, the focus should shift from measuring work hours to measuring output. The emphasis should shift from counting hours spent at the desk to evaluating the quality and impact of the work produced. By setting clear expectations and providing the necessary tools and resources, management can empower employees to take ownership of their work, whether in the office or from home.

With advancements in technology, many jobs can be performed effectively from remote locations, without the need for constant supervision. Employee motivation plays a vital role in this debate.

Confidentiality issues related to remote work must be addressed, but they should not be used as a blanket argument against working from home. Establishing robust cybersecurity measures and clear protocols for data protection can mitigate these concerns effectively.

Culture building and teamwork are important, and in-person interactions can certainly foster them. However, instead of mandating office presence, companies can focus on creating opportunities for team building and social interactions outside the office, fostering a more balanced approach.

Human interaction remains a critical aspect of work, but it doesn’t always necessitate being physically present in an office. Technology has enabled virtual meetings, collaboration tools, and communication platforms that can bridge the gap. Recognising the value of both in-person and remote interactions is essential.

Other motivations

Are these mandates truly in the best interest of employees, or are they driven by other motivations? Perhaps it’s related to the substantial sunk costs in real estate, where companies have invested heavily in office spaces and are now determined to maximise their use. Many of the technology firms have got government land for free or subsidised, to build these offices, but may have riders for their usage.

Alternatively, confidentiality concerns may play a role, but there are innovative solutions like establishing smaller, secure satellite offices for specific employees who need to handle sensitive data. These questions highlight the need for a more thoughtful approach.

One cannot help but wonder if the persistent call for employees to return to the office, in some cases against their preferences and the evidence of remote work’s effectiveness, is a subtle showcasing of management influence. Is it more about asserting control over the workforce and maintaining the traditional hierarchy of the workplace?

In today’s densely-populated urban centres, where terrible traffic commutes are a daily reality, does it truly make sense to get everyone back to the office, especially when they can achieve the same work output sitting at home or in more convenient remote locations?

The future of work should indeed be flexible, acknowledging the diverse needs and preferences of the workforce. Rather than enforcing rigid office attendance, companies can explore alternatives that balance the benefits of in-person collaboration with the advantages of remote work. This might entail reimagining office spaces as collaborative hubs, fostering a culture of trust, and promoting outcome-based productivity, all while accommodating individual work styles. It’s time to ask how we can create a work environment that empowers employees to achieve their best while maintaining a positive work culture that transcends physical boundaries.

What issues need to be addressed to make this transition successfully? First, organisations must invest in robust remote work infrastructure and security to address concerns about data confidentiality. Second, fostering a culture of trust and communication is essential to ensure that employees remain engaged and connected, even in a virtual environment. Third, companies should create opportunities for team-building and social interactions, both in person and virtually, to nurture a positive work culture that transcends physical boundaries.

The future of work is about embracing adaptability and catering to individual needs, ultimately redefining the traditional notions of office attendance. The HR’s role is not to enforce, but to empower, facilitating a workplace where employees can thrive while delivering their best work.

(Srinath Sridharan is an author, policy researcher and corporate adviser. X: @ssmumbai.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 10 November 2023, 05:26 IST)

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