The IT Factor: How Covid Changed the Work Model of Tech Employees Forever​

·5-min read

The world of technology is far from being averse to change: every day there are new products, new coding languages, new ways of making our lives smarter, brighter, and easier. But when the coronavirus pandemic brought the entire world to a virtual standstill, India’s $200 billion technology services industry underwent a digital revolution that it wasn't prepared for.

Overnight offices were forced into shutdowns and 'work from home' suddenly became the new experiment as boardroom meetings shifted to Zoom calls and couches became the new work desks. The traditional 9-to-5 workday as we knew it has changed forever.

But even as we are staring at a lethal second wave, that too within a year of lockdown, there are multiple questions about India's work culture: will people ever go back to the office again? How are tech giants like Google, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, to name a few, re-imaging workspaces to fit into a post-pandemic world? And more importantly, how will this hybrid way of working impact our day-to-day social interactions?

What a hybrid work setup may look like

Recently, Microsoft announced that it would start reopening its offices next week and implement a 'hybrid workplace' that would see some employees work on-site while the rest continue to work remotely. This decision was taken after an internal survey revealed that 54% of employees favoured a 'soft reopening'.

Like Microsoft, Wipro and Tech Mahindra have already adopted a hybrid workplace, allowing only 20% of their employees to work from the office in a staggered manner. Employees have been given the autonomy of attending physical office 2 days a week on certain scheduled days. These companies have also redesigned their office spaces to ensure ventilation and adequate social distancing between workers.

The definition of a hybrid work model differs from company to company. For instance, Kissflow, one of India's top five SaaS (software as a service) firms, based out of Chennai has introduced a new working model called Remote+ that combines three weeks of work from home and one week of office-based work. The company bears the accommodation costs for the office week and provides incentives to employees as well.

One of the biggest challenges that people have faced during WFH is a poor internet connection and power cuts. 28-year-old Subhash Reddy says he is relieved to get back to the office as he no longer has to worry about connectivity issues.

"I am very happy with the precautions that have been taken by my office. It was becoming difficult to deal with everyday household din. I no longer have to worry about sloppy internet connections or the pressure cooker whistle giving a background noise during my Zoom calls,” he says.

Not all on board

But the percentage of people who are looking back at going to the office is quite small. A recent survey conducted with 62 IT firms by the Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association (HYSEA) found that ‘work from home’ is here to stay at least till the end of 2021. Contrary to expectations, the survey also revealed that WFH didn't hinder the productivity level of employees; rather it boosted the overall performance of companies.

"More than 60% companies reported 90% productivity, compared to pre-pandemic levels. A few reported above 100% output. Most IT companies are happy with their performance; the general consensus is that unless everyone gets vaccinated, working from home will continue for the time being," says Bharani Kumar Aroll, president, HYSEA.

Experts believe the Centre's decision to open vaccination for anyone above 45 years of age is likely to enthuse confidence among IT workers who are reluctant to work from the office fearing the risk of contracting the virus.

But the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases and the subsequent shutting down of schools in several parts of the country including Telangana has made it increasingly difficult, especially for parents, to maintain a work-life balance.

“Since the past one year, Both my husband and I have struggled to keep our professional and personal lives separate. My workload has multiplied as I am simultaneously cooking, cleaning, and looking after my children’s education. Until the situation normalises, neither am I sending my kids to school nor am I even thinking of going back to the office,” says Oindrilla Chakraborty, a mother of two, who is based out of Hyderabad.

Against the backdrop of many socio-economic factors, several small-scale IT start-ups in Hyderabad have given up their office spaces owing to high rents, and electricity and maintenance costs. Instead, office spaces have shifted away from cubicles to cafes, workcations, and co-working spaces at nominal costs.

The way forward

For better or worse, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine everything and modernise traditional ways of working.

Google has extended WFH till September 2021, but the tech giant is also toying with the idea of a ‘flexible workweek’ once the situation gets conducive for employees to return to the office. According to reports, employees will be asked to attend the office three days a week while working from home the remaining days.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, on numerous occasions in the past, highlighted that this flexible model is the future of IT companies in the post-pandemic world as it will help in greater productivity, collaboration, and well-being of employees.

While it could take the whole of 2021 or beyond to get the entire population of India vaccinated, experts say a hybrid-workforce model is a future that awaits the IT industry, not just in India but around the world.