Should offices reopen? India Inc. still struggles to find answers

September 06, 2021 2:20 PM

We recognise that everything we ever knew of work has changed. But as much as the new work-from-home model opens our eyes to work cultures unexplored in pre-pandemic times, it also presses the question - will we ever be back to work, physically?

offices reopens36 per cent medium and 24 per cent small businesses considered their apprentices to be only 'fairly productive'.

By MK Padma Kumar,

As the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in on the Indian shores, offices and workstations quickly underwent a marked shift in their physical and dimensional settings. And, now with one-and-a-half-year into the pandemic, our formal, professional lives intermingle with our concealed, domestic ones, and high-office meetings take place in informal settings over video conferencing. We recognise that everything we ever knew of work has changed. But as much as the new work-from-home model opens our eyes to work cultures unexplored in pre-pandemic times, it also presses the question – will we ever be back to work, physically?

Post the devastating second-wave of the pandemic in April and May 2021, the situation in India seems to be getting better. The caseload in the national capital is at an all-time low, and the administration is well-utilising this much-needed gap to devise new ways of strategic reopening of our places of education, economic bustle, and work. The vaccination drive is being ramped up, with record-number of doses being administered daily. New central & state guidelines for a phased reopening are being issued almost every day.

In the struggle against, what is being touted as the ‘new normal’, India Inc. is gradually reopening physical offices for employees. Corporates are doubling their efforts to encourage employees to get themselves vaccinated. However, going forward it is likely that an increased range of companies will expect employees to follow a hybrid model balancing between remote and on-site work, if not a complete revival of the physical office model soon. Many big companies, and even local start-ups, expecting a gradual but effective re-entry of the working force in offices twice or thrice a week, new infrastructural and logistical settings are being worked on to streamline this gradual transition to an anticipated post-COVID world.

Having said this, corporates are also grappling with the issues of convenience, interconnectedness, as well as the ever-plaguing challenge of keeping the virus at bay from office cubicles. The work-from-home model has opened new vistas of functional utility for a lot of us, but it has also come at the cost of the overall physical and mental health of the workforce, as employees strive to juggle between divided commitments at home and at work, with reduced social affinity against what the physical office spaces provided, not too long ago. Coupled with this is the threat of the third-wave of the pandemic inching nearer.

The current situation hangs by a delicate thread, where on one hand is the question of people safety during this health crisis and on the other lies the question – how long will it be before we shift back to our old ways of working, if at all? Coronavirus, in all probability and in all its mutations, is here to stay. A hybrid approach that combines Work from home with Work from office looks like the way forward at least for now where companies like us, can allot specific working days across various departments. Only vaccinated staff can be allowed to come in which will provide a sense of safety to both employer and employee. This will also help follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. Thus, as new work models emerge precaution is of paramount importance and everyone’s safety and well-being depends on a balanced decision-making.

(The author is Chief Operating Officer, IPE Global (international development consulting firm). Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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