End of road for work-from-home?

End of road for work-from-home?

Indian companies want at least the top-level employees to be back in the office, and a new survey reveals that Indian professionals are not at all averse to the idea

Is work-from-home (WFH) losing its charm? While surveys around the beginning of this year revealed that employees were mostly reluctant to return to offices though the pandemic was on the wane, it now appears that Indian companies are taking a grim view of the situation. The industry mostly wants at least the top-level employees to be back in the office immediately.

Another related development is also surprising. In complete contrast to the previous surveys, a recent study conducted by an Indian market research firm reveals that Indian professionals are happy about returning to the office after the pandemic.

Physical presence crucial for systemically critical roles

Despite companies playing around with several work models to come up with the best hybrid solution, more and more Indian companies have started rejecting candidates in senior positions specifically because they wanted to work from home. Leaders and top recruiters are now voicing support for this move. They say setting down flexibility at work as a pre-condition during hiring negotiations might immediately put the candidate out of the shortlist. This had always been so in the past – especially in India – but the pandemic had transformed the scenario over the last couple of years. But now it seems that was just a contingency measure, and not really a shift in corporate mindset.

The reasons are many, and none of them can be totally ignored. There are clients who might stipulate prerequisites that a particular project needs to be executed only from the office. Such data privacy and information security clauses in the contract, thus, leave companies with little choice.

Also, for senior roles, direct contact is often a factor that can make or break a deal. Remote – however technologically advanced – might not convey the same impact. Especially for leadership and senior managerial responsibilities, proximity to customers and employees might be essential to strike the right chord. Direct communication is crucial to both negotiating and motivating, and video calls can be no substitute for a tangible, high-touch environment.

Experts generally concur that physical presence is key to systemically critical roles. For such positions, just being there constitute the crux of the impact that the organization expects from an employee. When compared with the virtual, physical presence almost always results in quicker closures and better collaboration.

Company comes first

So, is it all over for the remote and the hybrid? It is yet too early to conclude. The industry is still settling in with the concept and there’s no clear winning formula. As a series of shocks currently threaten the global economy, still reeling under a pandemic-driven slowdown, and a recession in the lurking, companies are clearly unwilling to experiment too much. With most industries facing global and domestic macroeconomic headwinds, businesses want to ensure maximum productivity. While its now a proven fact that WFH has not affected productivity – which means companies still cannot force the fiscal angle to drive employees back to the office – they are now taking a firmer stand.

It goes without saying that for companies that follow best practices, employee well-being will forever remain a priority – and they always stand by their employees in hours of personal crisis or work-life imbalance. But they also want to stress that if an employee is prioritizing the flexibility of anywhere working ahead of organizational requirements – it shows a lack of commitment and perhaps apathy to the company’s needs.

Definitely, not all of this is about productivity, but more about office culture and a sense of belonging. Leaders perceive a distinct loss of connection among workers meeting on a virtual platform. Another fear is that lack of personal interaction can impede opportunities for learning and career advancement – especially for the juniors. And of course, there are unscrupulous employees who have been engaged in moonlighting during the pandemic phase–taking unethical advantage of remote working by serving a second organization parallelly.

Ipsos survey shows Indians are happy to return

Meanwhile, the latest survey findings by the India arm of Ipsos, a leading global market research and consulting firm, reveals that Indian professionals are now not at all averse to returning to the office. Last year (July 2021) Ipsos had conducted an earlier WFH survey in partnership with the World Economic Forum, in which about one-third of the respondents said that:

  • home is a difficult place to be productive (38%),
  • feel disengaged when working from home (37%), and
  • feel more burned out by working from home (33%).

This despite the world being in the thick of work from home at that time!

In the new Ipsos IndiaBus survey on Work Modes released recently (August 2022), the Indian scenario looked positively in sync with what the business leaders are hoping for. Overall,80% of the participants said they are excited about returning to physical workplaces. Men scored marginally higher at 81% on this, while the women stood at 77%.

Respondents from the western part of India seemed more eager to return to office (92%) compared to others.

Participants willing to return felt that attending office regularly enabled:

  • better work-life balance (17%),
  • health and wellbeing (16%),
  • maintaining routine (16%),
  • better coordination (13%),
  • socialization (12%),
  • increased productivity/ efficiency (9%),
  • team engagement (8%), and
  • dedicated working space (8%).

Indian industry leaders are still in wait-and-watch mode. Most of them feel that hybrid will be the overarching system in the future. But, for senior roles, there can be no skirting the office.

Read the latest Ipsos survey:8 in 10 working Indian adults excited about being back in office – Ipsos IndiaBus Survey on Work Modes | Ipsos

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