India’s information technology industry, which has allowed most of its employees to work from home in during the coronavirus pandemic, is wary of bringing them back to the office. Though the government has issued a directive allowing 50% of IT sector employees to return to the office, the industry body National Association of Software and Service Companies has urged companies to exercise caution.
It pointed out that companies have been able to maintain productivity while its employees work from home and wants firms to bring employees back in a phased manner. It has suggested that only 15-20% of the workforce should return to the office by the end of June.
The software companies are also anxious. They feel if employees are allowed to return to the office and one of them becomes infected, the lives of other staffers will be in danger. It will also lead to workflow disruption and additional costs as the office will have to be shut down for fumigation and other employees will have to be quarantined.
Though some companies are looking to start skeletal office operations after May 17, when the current lockdown is supposed to end, many others want to wait till May 31. The current lockdown began on March 25 and was extended twice, first on April 14 and again on May 3.
Thus employees returning to the office will depend on key factors such as the criticality of their roles, social distancing norms and the length of commute involved. New travel safety norms will mandate fewer passengers in each vehicle and this will also push up costs.
Meanwhile, the current work-from-home norm is proving to be a mixed bag. A survey by consulting firm Deloitte indicates that though individual productivity has gone up, it has affected overall business productivity.
After surveying 42 chief executives, the company said 60% reported an increase in individual employee productivity, but 99% indicated that business productivity dropped.
However, most CXOs were surprised by the agility of their organizations and people. The ready adoption of video conferencing app Zoom and an increase in workforce online catch-ups such as town halls and digital parties have impressed many CXOs.
While working from home may have eliminated the inconvenience of daily commutes, many complain of long working hours, depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Companies such as Tata Steel and Mahindra & Mahindra are seeking professional help to address the issue, Economic Times reported. Counseling firms are witnessing a surge in the number of clients. One such firm, 1to1help.net, claims it added 40 new clients in April alone.
For many employees working from home has given rise to a host of new challenges, including social isolation and juggling office work with taking care of children and elders. The general uncertainty over jobs and health fears related to the Covid-19 pandemic are adding to their stress. It has also aggravated many pre-existing problems such as substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorder and hypochondria.