WFH or WFO? India Inc decides to wait and watch as cases spike again

As Covid-19 infections rise in some parts of the country once again, India Inc has adopted a ‘wait and watch’ approach vis-à-vis work models for the time being.

Companies such as Bharti Airtel, HUL, Ericsson, Hyundai, Flipkart, Zomato, Honda Cars India, Tech Mahindra, Samsung, Uber, Nestle, Mphasis, Panasonic India, CashKaro, upGrad, Apollo Tyres, Vodafone Idea, and KPMG told ET that they are following the evolving situation closely while keeping a close eye on state government directives.

“Airtel is monitoring the situation and continues to have in place stringent Covid safety protocols across all its facilities,” a spokesperson said.

Honda Cars India said it has been adopting a hybrid model of attendance for the last two years, where a certain number of employees work from office and home, respectively. “The company monitors the situation on a daily basis and optimises the ratio of executives working physically.” Korean auto major Hyundai added that the company is ensuring that all employees, both at the company’s headquarters in Gurgaon and in Chennai, follow covid safety protocols — masks, temperature checks, social distancing, frequent cleaning of hands — strictly.

A spokesperson at ecommerce major Flipkart said that in addition to following all Covid protocols, it continues to “work closely with the central and state governments”.

In an email advisory sent to its employees on April 19, cofounder and CEO of Gurgaon-based Zomato Deepinder Goyal said while there was little to no hospitalisation at the moment and there was no need to panic, the current spike could be due to “a new variant altogether”.

Hybrid Work Model?

Goyal advised employees to continue wearing masks, and not come to the office in case of the slightest symptoms. “Depending on how the next few days go, there might be a mandatory work from home for a few weeks again; please prepare your home workstations for this event”.

Packaged foods company Nestle is calling employees to the office only if essential and plans to operate through a hybrid work model even going forward.

With 2,380 new coronavirus infections being reported in the last 24 hours, India’s active cases increased to 13,433, according to the union health ministry’s data. After a steady decline, parts of the country are seeing an uptick in Covid-19 cases, with the upward trend driven by a rise in Delhi, Haryana, and Kerala.

Most of India Inc is currently on a hybrid work model. But companies like Apollo Tyres and Panasonic India, whose employees have been coming to office, say they are willing to change their operating model if the situation and government regulations warrant.

“Employees here are coming to offices and the company is closely monitoring the situation…We are monitoring the current situation and will take a call on next steps based on risk analysis and in line with government regulations,” said Adarsh Mishra, CHRO at Panasonic India.

Apollo Tyres added that while its employees are working from office currently, it is monitoring the situation closely and “will take measures as and when the situation demands”.

Swati Bhargava, co-founder at startup CashKaro & EarnKaro, added that while it is currently following a hybrid model, it will enforce a mandatory work from home policy if and when the cases rise. “Appropriate social distancing measures, rapid tests, use of sanitisers and masks have been reinstated at the CashKaro headquarters in Gurgaon,” she said.

Harshvendra Soin, global chief people officer at Tech Mahindra, expects the trend of allowing employees the flexibility to work from anywhere to rise. “Additionally, we are keeping a close watch on all the directives issued by the respective state governments and have put stringent measures in place to curb the spread.”

Mayank Kumar, co-founder at edtech firm upGrad, with offices in Mumbai, Bangalore, Noida, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, said that with the spread of Omicron XE — the new recombinant highly infectious variant of the Covid virus — it is “closely monitoring the increase in numbers across cities, while also keeping a close eye on the government’s guidelines and protocols”.

Technology firms in Chennai have also adopted a flexible approach to the question of having offices open, giving HR managers room for navigation amid rising Covid infections.

Global SaaS company Chargebee, which has a large portion of its workforce in Chennai among others cities, has allowed employees to work from anywhere: “Folks can work from home, or work out of a cafe/co-working space (given we are all remote) to suit their style, keeping all the safety measures in mind,” RU Srinivas, SVP People Success at Chargebee.

A raft of product software and IT services companies in Chennai are coming up with their own variation of a hybrid work environment, which allows people to factor in Covid-induced disruptions in their work routines and continue working from anywhere.

Chennai is host to all large IT service providers such Infosys, Wipro, and TCS, accounting for 17 of them.

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