Approaches to Hybrid-Work Policies in India

Global HR

​As more people in India get vaccinated against the coronavirus, companies are rolling out hybrid-work policies to bring staff back to physical locations.

Half of the workforce in India’s information technology sector is likely to return to their offices for up to three days a week by January, according to a new survey published by the National Association of Software and Service Companies. Two-thirds of the employers surveyed are looking to implement hybrid-work models.

While some companies see hybrid work as a temporary measure so long as the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, others, such as Indian drug-maker Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd., plan to implement hybrid work permanently. One reason for this is the pool of available talent that prefers working at companies that offer the flexibility of remote work, said Jayaram Philkana, Mumbai-based president and CHRO of Glenmark. “We wish to be relevant for that talent.”

Here is an overview of how three Indian companies are approaching hybrid work.

Glenmark Pharmaceuticals

Glenmark executives believe working from home enables employees to be more productive since they save commuting time, and that leads to greater productivity for the company overall.

“We recognize the advantages that hybrid working offers and are experimenting with different segments of our workforce globally,” said Cherylann Pinto, executive board member at Glenmark in Mumbai.

The company’s hybrid policy is suitable for its 2,000 employees working in corporate offices across 38 countries, Pinto said. On the other hand, staff working at factories and in field sales will have to be physically present to fulfill their tasks.

To create the hybrid model, Glenmark hired a consultant to analyze all office jobs using five criteria to decide which roles can be done remotely. “Fairness and equity demand that we use a set of criteria consistently across the globe,” Philkana said.

The criteria included such factors as the amount of in-person collaboration required in a role to accomplish goals, and the level of information data security required for tasks. Another factor is the need for special infrastructure to get the job done. When more specialized infrastructure is required, the more likely it is the person must work in an office.

Based on these criteria, Glenmark found that a significant portion of its corporate roles are suitable for remote work. Within this group, employees are now being asked to come to an office three to five days each week, based on a discussion with their managers. And managers have been empowered to create a roster of who comes in when. Fixed seats at the office have been eliminated, and employees use software to book a desk and meeting rooms when they arrive. The company plans to survey employees periodically to monitor and evaluate the hybrid model. 

One initiative from the pandemic that the company plans to carry on in the future is a virtual annual gala and rewards event. Last year, the gala was welcomed by employees, and their family members could also join from home.

ICRA Ltd.

Credit ratings and research firm ICRA’s offices have been closed since March 2020, but starting Dec. 15, the company will reopen with a hybrid policy in place.

“The idea is to have 50 percent of the staff at any given point of time at any particular location,” said Sheetal Sandhu, Gurgaon-based Group CHRO. The company has 14 offices across India, and it’s mandatory for senior leaders like vice presidents and business development heads to be among the staff in the office, Sandhu said.

Within each team, Sandhu expects that half the employees will come to the office for one or two weeks, while the other half will come the following week or two weeks. The decision ultimately rests with managers and their teams, she said.

If an entire team needs to be in the office on a specific day or week, the team leader would coordinate with the head of another team asking its staff to stay home.

“A lot of planning and preparation is required to run the office at 50 percent capacity,” Sandhu said.

Once employees arrive at an office, they will find several changes, including greater space between seats, touchless doors and the shutdown of office cafeterias. “We’re asking people to bring lunch from home,” Sandhu said.

More than two-thirds of their employees have been vaccinated, and those coming to an office are required to be among them. “We are mindful that there will be difficulties for some employees to come back to work,” Sandhu said, adding that the company will make exceptions as needed as part of its employee-first policy. For instance, an employee with small children whose schools haven’t reopened will get more flexibility in the return to work.

In the long run, however, once the pandemic is over, Sandhu expects ICRA’s hybrid-work model to end. “Our philosophy is, we want people back,” she said. “We believe it is important from a collaboration and community-building point of view.”

M2P Fintech

M2P Fintech, a financial technology startup headquartered in Chennai, has, for now, left it to employees and team leaders to decide if or when they want to work in an office.

“We’re not going to mandatorily ask anyone to come until March 2022,” said Prabhu Rangarajan, co-founder of M2P Fintech. After that, the decision for full return to work will depend on factors like the vaccination status of all employees and any pandemic developments globally.

“We will wait and watch for new variants,” Rangarajan said. He thinks it’s likely that coming to an office will be optional at their company for the entirety of 2022.

In recent weeks, more than 50 percent of their employees have chosen to return, he said.

When employees want to return, they have to inform the facilities team to reserve a workstation, since the company doesn’t have fixed desks. But the company isn’t skimping on real estate. M2P Fintech’s workforce has expanded tenfold since March 2020 to around 500 employees, partly due to two acquisitions this year, Rangarajan said. The company recently leased a building to expand its office space to seat all employees. “We’ll always [have office space that is] two times of what staff strength that we have,” he said. This is because once the pandemic is over, the company wants to have all of its employees back on the premises, which the founders believe is important for collaboration and idea generation.

Rangarajan explained that the idea to build M2P Fintech came up when two co-founders chatted over a cup of tea. “Such casual conversations happen only when you meet face-to-face,” he said.

Shefali Anand is a New Delhi-based journalist and former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. You can follow her on Twitter.

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