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Home - The New Workplace: Telecommuting in India

The global recession’s pressure on the bottom line, and traffic jams, office expenses are making working from home an attractive alternative for more Indian BPO and IT companies, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.

Executives take more than two hours at times to commute (one way) between Delhi and a suburb, the outsourcing hub Gurgaon. In Bangalore, software honchos have to negotiate hours of traffic snarls everyday.

This is not the best way to achieve global efficiency and competition.

Even as user friendly public transport takes time to put into place and the Indian economy transitions, India Inc has been looking at other options.

Given high attrition rates and often odd working hours (to keep U.S. time), one solution has been “working out of home,” a culture that has now greatly spread, enabling Indian firms to tap a vast unutilized pool of talent as well.

India’s service sector-led economy, driven by individuals behind computer work stations, is also amenable to the introduction of such work practices.

Wipro business process outsourcing head T.K. Kurien has been quoted to say: “Apart from areas connected to privacy, control and data security issues, a lot of functions like finance, HR, writing, translation, work web designing, IT work, selling, marketing, transcription, outbound call center work, and other low-end processes and those requiring less supervision and less face to face interaction with clients and teams can be done from home.”

In the context of the current recession and dipping demand, many companies, including IBM, American Express, GE, apart from software giants such as Wipro, Infosys, TCS, are re-working the home office concept to cut costs, while improving efficiency and productivity.

Experts estimate cost savings of up to 15-20 percent with manpower utilizing up to 25 percent of work hours from home.

The majority of companies in India are trying to be selective in planning the workforce, compensation and benefit cuts for 2009, while they anticipate a decline in business performance next year, global HR consultancy Mercer said recently.

The survey said that 83 percent companies expect salary increases in the coming year to be lower than originally planned by them.

Companies are looking to bring down the level of compensation increases in 2009 that have been in the 13-15 percent range in the last few years, which is among the highest in the world.
Without compromising professionalism and quality, home offices cut wastage of energy and time, reduces attrition rates and crucially reduces costs of operation, office space, transportation and even salaries.

Rather than just the youth (usually given to hopping jobs and high expectations and salaries) housewives, retired individuals, the physically challenged, new mothers, unwell employees and students work in home comfort, delivering quality and deadlines and forming a steady pool of people that companies are tapping.

The new imports greatly reduce escalating employee losses, which may be as high as 50 percent (average 20-25percent) in industries such as call centers and customer service outsourcing.
It cuts pollution when climate change is a global issue, eases traffic jams, helps raising healthy babies in the care of their mothers and offers income opportunities to disabled who cannot travel distances.

In India several HR practices are thus increasingly moving out of traditional mindsets in bringing in more flexible and up-to-date manpower utilization policies.

In the wake of regular terror fears in cities across India, security checks, construction activities that hamper and traffic breakdowns (a major issue that cannot be ignored) working from home is a viable alternative that is being knitted into HR policies of firms.

British banking giant HSBC’s India arm has stated that the “work from home” culture is to be implemented for newly turned mothers on maternity leave.

Malini Thadani, HSBC communications head, said, tele-conferencing should enable work from home employees to stay in touch with the office.

Aquil Busrai, IBM’s human resources executive director in India, explains, “Since companies want results, whether the worker comes to the office everyday or works from home, the output matters and to help matters companies must facilitate this work from home culture by providing broadband connections and printers at home.”

Busrai says: “the attendance issue must be secondary to an employee’s performance.’’

Technology, of course, helps. WiMax, a super-speedy version of wireless broadband, provided by are all major telecom service providers like Tata, Reliance, Bharti, BSNL, MTNL, VSNL and Sify has enabled thousands of business process outsourcing executives in India to work out of homes.

Compared to WiFi, the WiMax signal travels much faster. Mohit Jain, CIO, 24/7 Customer, said, “A large volume of activities related to customer support and quality assurance can be successfully done out of home.”

Experts say that in developing countries such as India, given the poorly developed public transport facilities in cities such as Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, the percentage of late arrivals in offices could be higher than most developed countries, including the United States and Europe.

U.S.-based American job web site Careerbuilder.com conducted a specific survey that showed that nearly 40 percent employees arrived late at their work places due to traffic congestion or long commutes.

Other reasons (excuses) for late arrival were – catching up on lost sleep, taking care of children, and preparing them for school and day care

The new initiatives are thus being welcomed by the state owned companies, known for harboring more traditional outlook.

Indian Oil Corporation HR director V.C. Agrawal said that such a work ethic could foster emotional bonding between the employee and organization; IOC is looking to work out such employee practices.

However, observers also warn that Indians not used to the concept of working from home will need to be trained and taught about a whole new culture and discipline.

Several organizations thus need employees to attend office during the week to bring in a good mix of out-of-home and office hours and retain control, team management and employee interaction.

That said, home offices present a symbiotic relationship between companies and employees. As work and life quality gets enhanced with this fusion, a win-win situation results, especially as the worldwide recession continues unabated, telecommuting, with its cost savings, can be a Godsend with unforeseen pressure on the bottom lines of Indian companies.

In the longer run, the quality of work being delivered, the individual infrastructure requirements and the efficiency and maturity of employees will be deciding factors for more companies willing to take the path of growth via homes

Priyanka Bhardwaj is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.


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