In the beginning, there was chaos. And it seems in the end too it is not going to go any smoother. Last year in March when a nationwide lockdown was announced due to COVID-19, employees, as well as companies, struggled to adjust to the new normal of working from home (WFH). There were logistic issues. There were operational issues. But gradually, things settled. Mechanisms worked out, people and companies adjusted. Now, as Indian tech companies start to bring back employees to the office, again there are wrinkles.
The gradual opening of offices is posing a challenge to employees and companies. While some are eager to go back to the office, there are others who find the WFH mode better for them. Many still don’t know if they are yet ready to give up the comfort and independence of the home and return to the somewhat-managed micromanaged life of office premises.
India Today Tech spoke to some tech workers to understand how they feel about going to the office. The responses paint a fractured picture.
I miss the social life and freedom
After months of working from home, Nishant Roy (name changed), a software engineer with Infosys, is happy that his company is working to bring employees back to office. Though, he hasn’t received any date even if there are reminder mails once or twice a week from HR asking him to prepare to return to office soon.
Nishant was working in the Pune office of Infosys when COVID-19 hit. When lockdown started, he flew back to his hometown in Bengal in April 2020. Since then he has been working from his house which he shares with his parents, grandmother, and a younger brother. After working for 18 months from home, Roy now wants to go back to his office and start living a life away from the prying eyes of family. He misses the freedom that comes from living on one’s own means.
“I had no clue that this WFH would run this long. When I left Pune, I assumed that it would be a matter of a couple of months and I’ll be back soon but this is like going on forever. I like my life in Pune. Here it feels like life has stopped,” says Nishant.
The exasperation to go out of his hometown is so well evident in his voice that it feels like he will take the first flight back to Pune the day his office opens its doors for employees.
Although Nishant acknowledges that there is still risk of COVID infection, he says that the risk is the same everywhere. “I feel that there is less fear of Covid now. My family members keep going out. My dad goes to the office every day so anyway we’re all exposed to the risk,” he says.
Some want satellite office model
Larsen & Toubro Infotech (L&TI) is now using a “satellite office” concept. It allows the employees to work from home but mandates them to stay in the base location so that in case of any urgency they can come down to the office.
Anuj Mahajan, a system engineer at the L&TI office in Hyderabad, finds this model convenient and want it to continue. Anuj too lives with his parents but he doesn’t mind being in the family fold. “I am fine the way things are going now,” he says. “I have my own bike so I also don’t mind going to the office (occasionally).”
I have no option
Even if there are some Indian IT workers who miss the office and want to go, in general, most prefer to work from home. And they rue the fact that if their companies call them back to the office, they will have no other option but to go back.
Naina Biswas, who joined Intel during the lockdown, prefers working from home. Naina lost her father a few years ago and is living with her mother alone in Mathura from where she remotely works. Her office is located in Bengaluru.
“What other option do I have,” says Naina, when asked about returning to the office. “I have joined only recently so I can’t even think of a job change. However, I feel my company is being very cooperative about the situation.”
Intel had a Flexi mode style of working even before the lockdown. The employees do not have to go to the office every day. While the office building is open, the company has asked its employees to return to the base location by December if they do not have any problems.
Vikas Choubey, a member of technical staff at Mavenir, an American software company headquartered in Bengaluru, says he too doesn’t want to go back to work from office mode. Vikas received the first mail from his company around October 15 that noted employees had to come to the office by December. But since then there have been no follow-ups.
“I will reason with them (for WFH) when the final call comes but if they don’t agree then I will have to go back since I have no option,” says Vikas.
When asked if he would agree to a pay-cut in return for WFH, he sharply says no. Vikas feels the amount of work is double when working from home and a pay-cut will be unfair.
Vikas, as well as many other IT workers, feel that they are more productive with WFH mode. They also like that no one is constantly watching them. “Whatever time that I get during my lunch break or after my work hours during WFH is mine. I am not judged for how I spend it. This is another big factor for me why I prefer home,” says Vikas.
But some employees feel, to put it ironically, that they are way too productive while working from home. They say that the WFH mode has blurred the boundaries between work and leisure hours and it is better to go back to the office.
Nisha Mishra, who works with the tech team of HSBC Bank, feels that the culture of work has changed for the worse due to WFH. She says that often she works for 10 hours due to WFH mode.
“We need to go back to the pre-pandemic style of work at least. This is literally sucking the brains and there is no personal time left,” says Mishra. “I want to go back to my office now. I miss that space. If the company demands that I return to office, I wouldn’t think twice before going,” says Nisha.
While there are tech workers in favour of WFH and some who are not, there are some employees who feel that despite their desire for not going to office, their role and responsibility require them to be in office.
Karan Singh works with CompuCom, an IT company based in Pune, as Solutions Director. He says that his company has no plans to open its office yet but he feels that his role demands office space.
“While I may not be happy about going back to the office after spending such a long time working from home, it is equally important for me to get up from my comfort zone, walk across the floor and ask my fellow team members to get their sleeves rolling,” says Karan.
Some tech workers genuinely miss the office camaraderie. Neha, who is a senior test analyst in Cognizant in Pune, is hopeful that the office life will resume soon and she will meet her colleagues after a long time. “This COVID situation literally locked us into our homes. We could not see or meet anyone and this has been existing now for almost two years. So, if my company wants me back in the office I will go back. I am fed up with this life. I want to go back to my office and meet my colleagues,” she says.