One and a half years later, the pandemic is showing signs of tailing off in parts of the world and a vaccination drive is well underway. Despite that a second wave has already affected many households and a third wave is on the anvil, along with other dangerous variants. All this is bringing a new set of dilemma for the IT workforce. It raises two questions: Will employees be willing to come back to the office? And secondly, are companies prepared to bring them back?
Return to office
From March 2020, employees in the IT sector were forced to work from home (WFH), attended Zooms and Teams meetings and whether they liked it or not, WFH became very much a part of the new normal. Now, many employers are keen on getting a part of their workforce back to the workplace.
From an employee perspective too, a recent report by Awfis India shows that eight out of 10 employees are comfortable with returning to the office premises with some level of flexibility, once they are vaccinated. Around 71% of the respondents find managing teams easier in offices, and an equal percentage of employees opine that physical offices will continue to be the key for collaboration, culture, and overall business success.
Also, nearly three-fourths of respondents in IT firms admitted to being unsatisfied as far as career advancements with many experiencing diminished professional growth due to continued remote work. These indications are strong enough to pay more attention to getting employees to work at the office premises.
IT major Wipro expects to increasingly return employees to office starting in September as vaccination accelerates, depending on the pandemic and third wave, according to Saurabh Govil, Wipro’s chief human resources executive. However Govil stated, “This will vary between country by country and different stages of the pandemic.
Other Indian IT services firms, such as TCS and Infosys, are also expecting to see their employees back in the office later this year and state that the company’s majority workforce has been vaccinated and that the remaining employees will be fully vaccinated by September.
Rajesh Varrier, SVP, Head of Digital Experience and Microsoft Business, Infosys, says “The pandemic has, in some sense, taught several sectors that they can be effective with remote working and collaboration. There is a significant upside in this as it has ushered in a rapid change in business models and adoption of newer technologies faster. These changes helped re-affirm that remote working is productive and cost-effective. However, not every sector can adopt remote working and the need for hybrid workplaces is a necessity.”
Amit Ramani, CEO and Founder, Awfis, too believes that the office is here to stay, as employers are realizing the importance of a physical base for better communication, collaboration, transparency and shared work culture among employees.
Needless to say, the IT hardware industry and several small and mid-sized IT firms are reeling under crisis and thousands of people are dependent on it for their livelihood. Hence various industry bodies and governments are rooting for the IT industry to get back on track.
WFH too is here to stay
However, the WFH policy that was introduced almost all around the world when the COVID-19 pandemic will not be going away any time soon. As per the study by research firm Gartner, one-third employees will be working remotely by the year 2022.
It states that by the end of the current year, 51% of all the knowledge workers are estimated to be working remotely. The number was 27% back in 2019. The report also states that remote workers will make up for 32% of the total worldwide by the end of 2021, which is up from 17% in 2019.
In fact Gartner’s senior research director, Ranjit Atwal, says that hybrid workforce is the future of work where in remove turn on site part will be optimizing the workforce needs of employers.
Varrier too states, the future of work needs to be a human-centric hybrid workplace that can address employee wellness both physical and emotional and is secure and flexible. Employers too will have access to diversified talent.
However, a hybrid workplace model too needs proper clarity and safety measures. Early in June, Apple CEO Tim Cook proposed a new hybrid model in a company-wide memo telling staff that they would be required to be present in the office three days a week starting in early September. But that hasn’t gone down well with some of the employees claiming to leave the company if Apple demands their physical presence in the office.
Google employees, too, aren’t particularly happy with the company’s determination to bring most employees back to the office. In May, CEO Sundar Pichai announced plans for a “hybrid” work environment that would require most employees to work from their offices at least three days a week beginning in September. However, tensions have reportedly broken out over office transfers and the prospect of pay cuts; the overall confusion and uneven enforcement of the policy, especially among lower-level staff, also doesn’t help.
The IT sector is on the brink of workplace transformation, as American best-selling author and speaker, Seth W Godin said, “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”
The quote may aptly sums up the current workplace trends and the future of work and the office in the post-pandemic era – at least for now.