When Remote Work Isn’t an Option during COVID-19
The Internet is abuzz with articles touting the benefits of remote work and how work from home (WFH) has become the new normal. This begs the questions: What if your job cannot be done remotely, or what if WFH is not a fit for your business strategy.
A recent SCIKEY Mind Match Report reveals that 99.8% of the workforce is incapable of working from home and 40% jobs cannot be done from a home setup. And we are not just talking about the cashiers, bank tellers, and manufacturing line workers here. In the tech industry itself, one third of India’s four million IT employees are still trudging regularly to the office to make life easier for clients abroad. This is more pertinent in cities like Bengaluru, Pune, and Hyderabad that form the backbones of some of the world’s corporate behemoths.
Indian IT services companies (both large and mid-sized) support some of the largest healthcare and financial companies across the world and run technology infrastructure for governments and public services organizations. Besides, many global businesses also have essential functions—accounting, payments, billing, human resources, and payroll—being carried out in their own back offices in India that cannot be dome from their home computer.
More importantly, projects that are worked out of dedicated offshore development centres (ODCs) are done according to clauses often built into the client contract. Some ODCs won’t even allow mobile phones or anybody with a camera. These physical security measures cannot be implemented at home. Hence moving the work environment overnight is not easy, given the sensitivity of client data.
The worst-hit are those who run voice-based call centres. Their equipment simply cannot be set up at home. Ashok Kumar, Founder & Managing Director at RAH Infotech once said in a conversation with CXOToday, “The network and data infrastructure in India is not robust enough to address or support 100% WFH or remote working during Covid-19 like situations. The companies may have proper infrastructure to support remote access from anywhere but general WIFI or phone networks at remote locations are not always up and running to support continuity in work.”
Kumar also mentioned, in situations like this WFH, users are working on their own devices and multiple remote working apps. On top of it they are also not fully secure as users lack the understanding of secure access. The current situation demands a lot of design and investments to create better data and network infrastructure before we call this a ‘new normal’.
At the same time, not everyone is cut out to work remotely. Working from home requires strong communication skills, organization, and serious discipline. Besides that, some employees require more frequent interaction. Especially, employees with a high degree of ‘extraversion’, may benefit from in-person working relationships, rather than digital connections.
A senior public relations manager, who does not wish to be named, said, “Communicating digitally is a different experience altogether. Building culture, trust, and transparency can be difficult at a distance – although not impossible, especially in the current situation, but its long-term success is doubtful.”
Seema Saini, an Avionics Engineer at Line maintenance department, said, “For us, WFH will never work fully as the engineer needs to be practically performing the tasks on the ramp in the aircraft.” Many like her can’t simply log on to software like Outlook, Slack or Google Hangouts to do their job. However, she believes, companies of repute (referring to her workplace), are making social distancing a norm and making life easier for employees on the floor.
For example, Infosys, on its part, has removed biometric scanners to minimize the possibility of the virus’s transmission; it has installed thermal scanners instead to keep track of staffers’ body temperatures. Besides, helping employees through helpdesks and counseling experts to take care of their psychological needs, IT majors like Cognizant has even declared a 25% raise in base salaries as a “sign of gratitude” for those working through the pandemic.
The Health Ministry has issued guidelines for disinfecting public places including offices in areas reporting COVID-19 as a preventive measure against the pandemic. Sterilization, physical distancing policies, and temperature-check stations are must to keep the ‘back to office’ workforce going.
For working in an environment that doesn’t support remote working, Bhavin Turakhia, Founder & CEO at Flock, believes, touch screen interfaces only became a common practice in the last decade or so, including digital payments in the cafeterias. “Now that our awareness of ‘shared hygiene’ has increased, we will transition more quickly towards voice and machine vision interfaces and contactless logging in and logging off.
Take for example, the fact that we used fingerprints to log in at offices, which will completely transition to facial recognition going forward. These technologies will help limit physical contact people have with surfaces and each other, thereby reducing the risk of contracting the virus,” he said.
However, whether the industry on the whole is prepared for these measures at the moment is another matter, a discussion, which we keep for some other day.