Professionals in India tell employers: Hybrid Work is here to stay, Deal with it

13th November 2022
Professionals in India tell employers: Hybrid Work is here to stay, Deal with it
Image credit_VMware

By Anand Parthasarathy
November 13, 2022:  Among the changes wrought by the extended Covid pandemic lockdowns spread over two years,  none may be as impactful  and  irreversible as the very nature of work. Employers large and small, with a traditional mindset are finding that setting time limits after which everyone troops dutifully back to work, is just not working.
India-specific findings of a global study by technology company HP, released on November 8, puts its central finding in stark terms: “Indian employees are unwilling to go back to the office full-time as they are relishing the hybrid work model, which became a necessity in the last two years, due to the pandemic.”  Some 72% find a hybrid model improves their productivity; an overwhelming 92% believe it gives them a much-needed work-life balance.”
Says Ketan Patel, Managing Director, HP India: “Hybrid work in India is here to stay. Organizations need to re-evaluate a hybrid workplace culture that offers flexibility and work-life balance while encouraging inclusivity, engagement, and a sense of well-being among employees.”
Networking technology leader Cisco, conducted a similar  Hybrid Work Study six months ago.  It was titled in unambiguous words addressed to all employers: “Employees are ready for hybrid work. Are you?”
The survey revealed that 3 of 4 Indian employees favoured a hybrid work environment in the future.   They cited saving between 4 and 8 hours a week, presumably on travel,  as a big plus.  
This confirmed what Cisco realized when its video conferencing and online collaboration tool Webex, experienced the world’s  second-highest usage in India, outside its home turf, the US. To address this huge demand, Cisco last month set up dedicated India infrastructure and a data centre for Webex. 
Says Daisy Chittilapilly, President, Cisco India & SAARC: “With this dedicated infrastructure, we can now offer enhanced performance at a much lower cost to our customers, and empower their move to a successful hybrid working future.” The India-specific pricing for Webex services is expected to be lower by 50% than the global pricing.
What exactly does Hybrid Work mean?
In its simplest form  hybrid work means employees  are able to  work partly from home, partly at their employer’s premises and  partly from anywhere else – maybe from dedicated work spaces which may or may not belong to the employer.
blog by Sheryl of Zoho’s Cliq group, lays out the four different forms this could take:
-        ‘At-will’ model: Employees are provided with the flexibility to come to the office depending on their convenience.
-        ‘Split-week’ model: Work days can be divided into work-from-office days and work-from-home days. For example: employees could choose to work from the office for two days and work from home for the rest of the week.
-        ‘Shift-work’ model: Many organizations have already been operating in this model where some employees on the team work a morning shift and the rest work in afternoon or evening shifts.|
-        ‘Week-by-week’ model: This model allows employees to alternate weeks working remotely and in the office. This is a great option for employees located far away from the office, as it allows them to consolidate their travel and take alternating weeks off from their commute.
The author concludes: "When employees are provided with the flexibility to choose their own work schedule, they are often more productive. However, while productivity is important, focusing solely on productivity without also establishing a balance could lead to serious workforce burnout."|
Productivity paranoia
One offshoot of the current debate on work models is to debunk the idea that productivity is paramount, or that work done in the office is more productive than work done at home.  A September 22, 2022 special report from Microsoft on work trends entitled: ‘Hybrid Work is just Work: Are we doing it wrong?’, says: “Productivity paranoia risks making hybrid work unsustainable. Leaders need to pivot from worrying about whether their people are working enough to helping them focus on the work that’s most important.”
Forbes magazine in a November 7, 2022 article on ‘Getting things done through remote work’, quotes a human resources specialist Amy Freshman: “The notion of presence equals productivity has long been a misnomer. Just because a worker is there early to turn the office lights on or stays late to shut them off does not mean they are the most productive person on the team.
Back home,  digital news platform The Federal in an October 12 study  drives home the same  point with a telling quote from a  TCS employee in Chennai: “The management has given us a diktat that we should report for duty in office twice or thrice a week. We just go there, meet friends, chat with them, have coffee, come home, and then log in again and resume work. Very little work is done at the office.”
As employees, particularly tech professionals, swing between spells of working remotely from home, to clocking time, onsite at the office to a mix-n-match of the two, a shakeout seems to be taking place between these three workstyles.  So, is remote or hybrid work emerging as a permanent feature of workplaces of the 2020s?
Ms Freshman quoted by Forbes says: “Unequivocally yes. The pandemic brought on the largest remote work experiment in the history of the working world and the findings are in: remote work works. Companies are realizing that many jobs can be done remotely — perhaps more than they thought — at least part of the work week.”
Tech solutions for the hybrid workplac
Faced with this reality, many product and solution providers are tweaking their offerings or creating new ones to meet the expected boom in hybrid work
-Cloud computing and virtualization leader VMware, has   announced the availability in India of its 'Anywhere Workspace' solution. This anticipates the next evolution of hybrid work into autonomous work spaces where each employee, and each device is a front door into the organization and its resources.  Says Shankar Iyer, VMware’s Senior Vice President for end-user computing: “To develop a successful hybrid working model, organizations need to automate how they deliver, manage and better secure hybrid workstyle… while searching for a balance in the hybrid work model that enables successful remote work while preserving a creative culture.”
-Zoom, one of the more popular web conference options for work-from-home professionals during the lockdowns, announced a full slate of new innovations on its platform at the Zoomtopia 2022 annual event this week. They include Zoom Spots, a virtual video-enabled co-working space due to be launched in early 2023.
Warned Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, at the Zoom expo: “There has never been more uncertainty surrounding the future of work than there is today. Work from anywhere, hybrid offices and other trends have created a complex set of questions that business and IT leaders need to address. Collaboration tools will be critical in keeping workers connected.
But to overcome the teething troubles of the new hybrid models of work that are evolving,  the disconnect and a mismatch of expectations that currently exists between  management and employees needs to be addressed. An October 19 2022 study by  telecom provider Verizon entitled ‘Re-envisioning the way we work”,  refers to what it calls “organizational myopia” or “corporate sightedness”  when  business decision makers were  confronted  with the post-pandemic workplace.
What is needed , suggested the study, was a redesigned workplace—wherever that might be. “It comes down to the people, the processes and the technology—and creating a workplace that ensures employees receive a positive experience from recruitment to retirement.”
Such a positive experience does not cost – it pays. At the ongoing UN-sponsored COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, reports tabled, highlighted that during the 2020 lockdowns, Carbon dioxide emissions fell by an estimated 2.4 billion tonnes – and much of this  is being attributed to reduced emissions from transport. Employees working from home accounted for a big chunk of this reduction in transport.
In a November 6, 2022,  blog in Times of India, Mark Dixon CEO of IWG,  the Switzerland-based world leader in hybrid workplace solutions, infers  from these statistics: “The offer of flexible working is an essential aspect of every employer’s approach to sustainability. Adopting the hybrid model enables companies to make progress under six of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.”
So there!  If all other arguments fail, one can always fall back on the clincher that says, the hybrid workplace of the future is good,  not just for the people involved, but for the planet.
You can find graphics to illustrate this report here
This article has appeared in Swarajya