Approaches to Hybrid Work Policies in India

By Shefali Anand December 3, 2021
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​As more people in India get vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic, companies are rolling out hybrid work policies to bring staff back to physical locations.

Half of the workforce in India's information technology sector is likely to return to office for up to three days a week by January, according to a new survey published by the National Association of Software and Service Companies. Two-thirds of the employers surveyed are looking to implement hybrid work models.

While some companies see hybrid work as a temporary measure as long as the pandemic lasts, others, such as Indian drug-maker Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd., plan to implement hybrid work permanently. One reason is the pool of available talent that prefers to work at companies that offer the flexibility of remote work, said Jayaram Philkana, Mumbai-based president & CHRO of Glenmark. "We wish to be relevant for that talent."

Here is an overview of how three companies are approaching hybrid work:

Glenmark Pharmaceuticals

Glenmark executives believe that working from home enables employees to be more productive since they save commuting time, and that leads to greater productivity for the company overall.

"We recognize the advantages that hybrid working offers and are experimenting with different segments of our workforce globally," said Cherylann Pinto, executive board member at Glenmark.

The company's hybrid policy is suitable for its 2,000 employees working in corporate offices across 38 countries, said Pinto. On the other hand, staff working at factories and in field sales will have to be physically present to fulfill their tasks.

To create the hybrid model, Glenmark hired a consultant to analyze all office jobs using five criteria to decide which roles can be done remotely. "Fairness and equity demand that we use a set of criteria consistently across the globe," said Philkana.

The criteria included such factors as the amount of in-person collaboration required in a role to accomplish goals, or the level of information data security required for tasks. Another criteria is the need for special infrastructure to get the job done. When more specialized infrastructure is required, the more likely it is the person has to come to an office.

Based on these criteria, Glenmark found that a significant portion of its corporate roles are suitable for remote work. Within this group, employees are now being asked to come to an office three to five days each week, based on a discussion with their managers. And managers have been empowered to create a roster of who comes in when. Fixed seats at the office have been elimianted and employees use software to book a desk and meeting rooms when they arrive. The company plans to survey employees periodically to monitor and evaluate the hybrid model. 

One initiative from the pandemic that the company plans to carry on in the future is a virtual annual gala and rewards event. Last year, the gala was welcomed by employees since their family members could also join from home.

ICRA Ltd.

Credit ratings and research firm ICRA's offices have been closed since March 2020, but starting Dec. 15, the company will reopen with a hybrid policy in place.

"The idea is to have 50% of the staff at any given point of time at any particular location," said Sheetal Sandhu, Gurgaon-based Group CHRO. The company has 14 offices across India, and it's mandatory for senior leaders like vice presidents and business development heads to be among the staff that's in the office, said Sandhu.

Within each team, Sandhu expects that half the employees would come to the office for one or two weeks, while the other half would come the following week or two weeks. The decision ultimately rests with managers and their teams, she said.

If an entire team needs to be in office on a specific day or week, the team head would coordinate with the head of another team asking its staff to stay home.

"A lot of planning and preparation is required to run the office at 50% capacity," said Sandhu.

Once they arrive at an office, employees will find several changes, including greater space between seats, touchless doors and the shutdown of office cafeterias. "We're asking people to bring lunch from home," said Sandhu.

More than two-thirds of their employees have been vaccinated, and those coming to an office are required to be among them. "We are mindful that there will be difficulties for some employees to come back to work," said Sandhu. The company will make exceptions as needed as part of its employee-first policy, she said. For instance, an employee with small children whose schools haven't reopened will get more flexibility in the return to work. 

In the long run, however, once the pandemic is behind us, Sandhu expects their hybrid work model to end. 'Our philosophy is, we want people back," she said. "We believe it is important from a collaboration and community-building point of view."

M2P Fintech

This financial technology startup headquartered in Chennai has, for now, left it to employees and team leaders to decide if or when they want to work in an office.

"We're not going to mandatorily ask anyone to come until March 2022," said Prabhu Rangarajan, co-founder of M2P Fintech. After that, the decision for full return to work will depend on factors like the vaccination status of all employees and any pandemic developments globally.

"We will wait and watch for new variants," said Rangarajan. He thinks it's likely that for all of 2022, coming to an office will be optional at their company.

In recent weeks, more than 50% of their employees have chosen to return, he said.

When employees want to return, they have to inform the facilities team to reserve a workstation, since the company doesn't have fixed desks. But the company isn't skimping on real estate. M2P Fintech's workforce has expanded 10-fold since March 2020 to around 500, partly due to two acquisitions this year, Rangarajan said. The company recently leased a building to expand its office space to seat all employees. "We'll always be 2x of what staff strength that we have," he said. This is because once the pandemic is over, the company wants to have all of its employees back on premises, which the founders believe is important for collaboration and idea generation.

Rangarajan explained that the idea to build M2P Fintech came up when two co-founders chatted over a cup of tea. "Such casual conversations happen only when you meet face to face," he said. 


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