And in the medium term could boomerang on the workforce too as automation might just creep into areas that they hitherto dominated
Ever since the Covid-19 lockdown forced enterprises, both large and small, to have their staff working from home on a long-term basis, especially in the IT and IT services sector, research has sought to prove that the trend could be irreversible. However, there could still be a twist in this tale, caused by high attrition rates that forced businesses to seek more automation.
A study from employment website Indeed released towards the end-2021 says global job listings carrying remote work options have tripled since the pandemic with countries like Ireland, Spain and the UK witnessing the biggest jump. Another study by careers website Ladders predicted that a quarter of all professional jobs in North America will go remote by the end-2022.
Juxtaposed against this is the fact that nearly two-fifths of all employees are now operating in a hybrid work model, says Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index. Of course, there are exceptions such as Japan and France where the workforce is happy getting back to their desks, claiming that social interactions and on site mentoring actually benefits their productivity.
Is India any different?
Large IT companies such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro as well as some mid-tier ones were happy with the remote working trend and even scrambled to upgrade and innovate online collaboration opportunities. Everything was hunky dory till the time the lockdown restrictions eased. All the big IT companies were faced with another challenge – the battle of attrition.
Media reports said IT companies reported attrition rates of between 20% to 30%, which is almost equivalent to replacing the entire workforce over 40 months. Take the case of Infosys. The company reported a spike in attrition rates from 10.9% in Jan-March last year to 27.7% a year later. In the case of TCS, the rate grew from 7.2% to 17.4% over 12 months.
A senior HR analyst working with one of the top IT companies told us that things didn’t get back all of a sudden. Getting skilled talent in the digital space wasn’t easy and the pandemic just made life worse for recruiters and those tasked with staff retention. So, what changed? Both the employee and the business realized the overemphasis on the workplace.
And as the WFH phenomena went further, market researchers found data that suggested that those working from home weren’t slacking off but performed better. Thus, productivity appeared to be directly proportional to happiness and job satisfaction. What’s more, an entire army went to work creating digital solutions to make remote collaborations an efficient reality.
Now things are getting tougher
Once the pandemic restrictions eased, a return-to-workplace full-time appeared horrific, especially for those having to bear the brunt of traffic snarls. Professionals seeking to switch jobs began bargaining for a weekly quota of WFH. But, that’s not the only challenge and not even the biggest one.
IT majors, already waging a war to retain talent, find themselves in a none-too-happy position as exciting new technology arrived centrestage. Take the case of virtual reality applications on the Web3 that are entirely backed by blockchain technology. We are aware how recently Microsoft’s augmented reality team quit en masse and joined Meta’s metaverse.
And if that’s not enough, the startup boom has also sucked out talent with the promise of remote work and better-than-decent salaries. In fact, many IT professionals who went back to their small towns even turned entrepreneurs in the retail and delivery business, with some moving their IT skills on to the gig economy on a pay-per-use model.
What’s the future looking like?
Phil Fersht, founder of research company HFS claims that currently tech workers are on top and can demand higher salaries with better perks such as remote working days. However, it is only a matter of time that this pool of skilled workers shift branches in the hope of WFH privileges.
There will come a time when some of the work these employees do could be replaced with a higher level of automation. In which case, the IT workers would need to speed up their efforts to upskill at a pace that is considerably faster than now. And this is where the WFH actually proves to be a bane for the employees as direct learnings from colleagues have ground to a halt.