The debate about what the future of work will be is open. Nitin Sethi, chief executive officer (human capital solutions), Aon, India & South Asia, tells FE’s Shubhra Tandon that while working environments will evolve to give more flexibility to employees, keeping them completely away from offices strikes against the cultural fabric of organisations and is not tenable in the long run. Edited excerpts:
The debate about whether the future of work is hybrid or not in India is still open. What do your conversations with companies and findings in future work surveys suggest?
When we talk to organisations there is a large degree of uncertainty that we see. If you look at the evolution of the concept, last August pretty much everyone believed the future was virtual. Cut to today, a majority of employers believe it will be hybrid in one form or other, but given how we are seeing things evolve, I sense that it will probably evolve into an environment where there is the much greater flexibility given to employees but within the broader ambit of coming into the workplace when required.
There are industry nuances to this, product tech companies are more likely to drive much more flexible/ virtual models, however, industries that are sales heavy, operations heavy would want people to come back to normal working models sooner rather than later. On top of all of this is the culture of the organisation that will drive the decisions.
Are employees and companies on the same page regarding what will be the future of work be?
Yes and no. I don’t think there is a homogenous group of employees in terms of preference. There is a section of employees who enjoy the remote working model and its benefits. Then there is also a section of employees who miss the physical interaction, the social connections and are burning out due to a lack of boundaries between work and life in a remote environment. In most cases, it’s the management looking at who comes in, how often they come in etc, and the decision making isn’t participative at all.
What are the key factors companies are considering while deciding on their future work strategies?
I look at it in a few ways — What is the degree of collaboration that is required to get the work done? Can you build cohesive culture in an organisation where people don’t have interpersonal connections? Are you ok with the “Great Resignation” and is the ability to replace not a hindrance? Can you manage the workloads of individuals remotely? Is this as a workforce model sustainable or does it harm the organisation’s ability to compete in the marketplace in the long term?
There has been a sharp increase in attrition/resignations in the US once companies decided to open offices, and it is being said that many more may consider resigning if back to the office is implemented. Do you see that happening in India as well?
Well, if you look at IT as a sector, attrition has shot up on the back of a demand surge. I think we have to be pragmatic and look at which industries in India Inc. are a talent buyer’s market and talent sellers’ market. In places where demand outstrips supply, you may see some of that happen vis-a-vis an industry where the growth rates won’t be that aggressive.
Which are the sectors apart from IT, which will be better placed to adopt the hybrid working model in India?
Well on the face of it, large portions of BPOs, financial services firms can go hybrid. I think if you look at the transaction layer of jobs in most organisations, the ones that are rule-oriented, require little to no cross-team interaction or client interaction across India Inc. can move to a hybrid or virtual working model.
In your opinion, will the hybrid work model stay in India beyond 2022 as well?
Depends on our rate of vaccination, the third wave of the Covid-19 and does it have cascading effects into subsequent waves. By design answering the question of hybrid working is tricky. Organisations that were pioneers in remote working globally did research which led them to discover that remote working has a substantial impediment to how organisations innovate, collaborate, and solve problems. Whether or not it continues beyond 2022, I think, will depend on how long we take to learn these lessons ourselves.