Multiple cities have been locked down over coronavirus with only essential services allowed to be active. Yet, several offices are still asking employees to come in to work, despite the possibility of an increase in the number of infections and further transmitting the same.
The struggle has been more so for Information Technology (IT) and adjacent companies whose employees have been demanding to work from home, but the issue doesn’t lie with tech companies alone. Investment fund companies, banking and others also face similar issues.
From compliance to security, there are several issues that make working from home a challenge for companies, even if there is the will to allow it.
We looked at different sectors to see the hiccups they were facing:
Bank branches will continue to operate in cities that are under lockdown, but the Indian Banks’ Association has said that only essential services will be processed.
Sources in the State Bank of India (SBI) said that people who work in branches cannot work from home as they need to be present for cash transactions. SBI employs over 2.5 lakh people and has 22,000 branches across the country.
“Many employees have access to the CBS (core banking solution) software and hence have access to a lot of customer data. That can’t be given on a laptop, it’s not something one can work from home for,” the source said.
While over 50% of SBI’s corporate offices have been working from home from Saturday, at a branch level the bank is still instituting measures to reduce the number of people working from the branch.
While bank branches across the country will have to function to provide basic banking services, some have announced lesser working hours. Yes Bank, for example, is keeping its branches open only for four hours from 10 am to 2 pm until March 31.
However, HDFC’s CEO Keki Mistry told TNM that while having employees work from home is disruptive to some extent, technology enables it. HDFC has separated employees into teams. “One team works for one week, the other works from home. HDFC is well-automated and has the best of technology in use, it’s a little disruptive but we are doing it. Systems are secure to protect sensitive info,” he said.
IT and ITeS
The IT sector workforce is one of the largest in India. While several IT companies claim that they have been asking employees to work from home, IT and ITes has been declared an essential service in some states such as Telangana, exempting them from the lockdown.
This is because some of the work, research and clients catered to require a high level of security.
“We know that if the entire IT-BPM industry (across countries) shuts down overnight, what the globe determines as ‘essential services’ will come to a standstill. You know that the industry serves banks, utilities, retailers, airlines, shipping companies / freights and containers, healthcare and pharma organisations, insurance companies and so on. Being such a backbone for the entire globe, it is rather impossible to let the IT-BPM industry come to a grinding halt,” Keshav Murugesh, Group CEO of WNS and Chairman, NASSCOM, said.
Speaking to TNM, an employee of a research and development company in Bengaluru that designs microchips for smartphones said that the research they do requires data security. And while the company has allowed work from home, the client they cater to has insisted they come to work.
Some IT companies have told employees that their presence is required at work.
“As we cater to many clients from various sectors, we cannot give employees working on banking clients, and those clients who fall under the category of essential services the option of working from home. We work closely in providing tech assistance to several essential services companies like food delivery services, delivery services and others. For banking clients, it is nearly impossible to work from home because we have to maintain data security as it involves crucial information that must not be misused,” the senior manager said.
Another employee from TCS told TNM that many employees don’t have laptops and in order to let employees take laptops home or use personal laptops, several security steps need to be taken. This means that employees will have to physically travel to the workplace to collect and take their systems home.
Sources in TCS however claim that currently 85% of the office is working from home.
“We have enabled work from home for large number of TCS associates using our Secure Borderless Workspaces (SBWS) Infrastructure. Our teams are working on war footing to enable for the rest in conjunction with the client teams globally. TCS is rapidly rolling out its Secure Borderless Workspaces (SBWS) by ensuring the readiness of infrastructure concerning access, security, flexibility, and reliability. The non-linear roll out across our global facilities is being undertaken without any impact on mission critical client deliveries. This rapid rollout has seen a healthy reduction in the number of employees operating out of our facilities and the number is expected to go down even further,” a TCS spokesperson told TNM.
However, in some cases, companies have never had the option of working from home and the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up an unprecedented situation for them, something they were not prepared for.
“We do not have work from home options in our company at all. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, we did not have that option. Now the office is saying they will have to buy laptops for everyone and enable secure access to the company’s server before allowing us to work from home,” an employee from a biotechnology company in South Bengaluru said.
A former employee of a multinational financial services company, which has a large presence in Hyderabad, told TNM that such companies find it difficult to allow employees to work from home because a lot of work they do deals with confidential information. This involves several levels of compliance to even transfer data as some of the clients they work with include national governments.
“Some data, you really cannot give access to from elsewhere, and because of the same security reasons many employees aren’t given laptops,” the person said.
Saurabh Garg, founder and Chief Business Officer (CBO) of nobroker.com, says that the biggest challenge is the lack of coordination while working from home, especially since most companies have never had an experience of all employees working from remote locations where everything has to be coordinated online.
“We have decided to have morning and late afternoon huddles to make sure everyone is on the same page and clear about what needs to be delivered. It helps to over-communicate and over-elaborate. We will be observing the situation and then decide accordingly,” he added.
While companies are scrambling to implement new systems and processes in place for employees to work from home, the coronavirus pandemic has forced companies to understand the benefits and implications of remote working.
One senior employee from the insurance industry said that while it is a challenge, it isn’t entirely impossible to implement work from home if the company has the right technology in place.
However, the person also said that for companies across India, this will throw up some challenges such as being able to measure employee productivity, which is usually an important metric during the appraisal season.
“But now that companies are in this situation, it could be the start of a new way of working for many,” the person added.
With inputs from Haripriya S, Theja Ram