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How India Inc. is dealing with work from home as coronavirus forces everyone in a three-week lockdown

Companies are providing all kind of help to their employees to make the work from home transition easier.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

It’s been a few days since almost all the workforce of Indian technology companies have been asked to work from home as India announced a 21-day lockdown beginning March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus.

For most of the employees and companies, this is their first-ever work from home and everyone is learning and adapting as the day progresses. Employees start their work right from their bed and continue working in their pajamas hunched over the dining table. In another scenario, many have to deal with loud kids shouting in the background while they discuss serious matters with their bosses on a video conference.

A New Delhi-based senior executive who works with a medicine delivery company and asked not to name the company said it’s a nightmare working from home as he has two children who are hyper-energetic. Recently, he had to lock himself in his small garage for two-hours straight as he had to talk to different people. Almost 400 of his colleagues are working from home till April 14 when the 21-day lockdown will be lifted.

Many companies had started practicing work from home as a precautionary measure even before India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown on March 24. But the real test of smoothly transitioning into work from home for all the team members started when a strict lockdown was announced, and it was no longer a voluntary effort.

The global pandemic which according to World Health Organization has infected over 460,000 people across almost 200 countries and territories globally and has claimed more than 21,000 lives, is seeing a slow but steady increase in its spread. According to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there are 640 people infected in the country with 17 reported deaths as of March 27.

Mumbai-based wealth management company Zerodha first implemented work from home as early as March 4, even before the government called it, and then extended the policy by a week as the situation escalated.

“Over the next few days as the news about more cases started coming out, we started scaling up work from home. I clearly remember, on March 12 World Health Organization declared this as a pandemic, and that was the day when we formalized it, created and published a policy document for others, and went 100% work from home,” said Kailash Nadh, CTO, Zerodha.Coronavirus banner

Currently, all its 1200 employees are working from home. Nadh claims largely everyone is fine working from home as of now, except a few teams such as critical process and risk management department. “But they have also been able to transition reasonably smoothly, although for the first time ever.”

Nadh said the company is doing whatever is required for the team to operate comfortably. A few employees face frequent power cuts in their neighborhood, so Zeta has arranged UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) for them and given internet dongles to those who have a slower internet connection than what they used to have in the office.

Nadh and other people who KrASIA spoke to said most of the tech companies are prepared to work remotely so this hasn’t caused much trouble yet.

Work from, or, for home

Nikhil Mangal, vice president, Global Benefits Business at Zeta India, a Bengaluru-based fintech company said as the day progresses it’d be naïve to say this is not going to impact productivity. “It’s not because of work from home, but because of the lockdown situation as it not only prohibits you from socializing, one can’t easily get daily necessities like groceries. So this is going to have an emotional toll on people,” Mangal told KrASIA.

Similar to Zerodha, Zeta started its work from home drill before the lockdown was implemented. It gave its employees four days of work from home option on March 11 and later extended it for a week. Karnataka government by then had already asked people to work from home and to practice social distancing.

The company, from its initial work from home drill learned that people were working more as they would get sucked into it as there was anyway nothing to do.

“The first thing I did for my team was to reduce the meeting timings and said no meeting between 12-2 pm, so people have time to cook since maids are also not coming and we have a lot of bachelors in the team,” Mangal said.

More than 50% of Zeta’s workforce is bachelor and Mangal is more worried about them than anything else at this point. “No one wants to cook and clean utensils on a daily basis. So we are constantly in touch with them, not only for work but to learn if they are facing any kind of problem that we can solve.”

Nikhil Mangal’s work station at home. Picture credit: Zeta India

Many of them, Mangal said, don’t have proper furniture in their houses and they work sitting on their beds causing backache due to bad posture. The HR and facilities team got in touch with its employees and asked how it could make their work from home situation easier. One of the top demands was to provide them with a table and chair as they had to work long hours on their laptops.

“As long as the vehicles were allowed on the road, we shifted our office furniture to people’s houses. We don’t want the productivity of the people to go down,” he said.

Mangal has been working from home himself and has a one-year-old child at home and can’t be happier about the arrangement as he not only gets to work but also plays with his child for 15-20 minutes whenever he can find the time. He said although everyone has been working at the same level of energy as they were in the office, but the real result will be out two to three weeks from now.

“Initially people will like it, but once depression starts creeping in after some time, that’s when the leadership will be truly trusted,” Mangal said.

To kill the boredom and simulate an office-like vibe at home, Zeta is organizing virtual games every Friday in which everyone takes part with their own teams and there are meetings scheduled where no one discusses work but talks to each other about everything and anything.

Zeta is expecting some kind of dip in productivity with time for employees who are millennials or GenZ and stay alone far away from their hometowns. “We are taking steps to not burn them out and ensure they are eased into work instead of throwing constant work at them with a fixed and heavy routine,” he said.