Working from home: India and what comes next

India has responded to the COVID-19 emergency by asking companies to work from home where possible. The Indian government extended the work from home option for the IT-BPO sector until at least July 31st. So far, so different. But what comes next?

To begin with, some context: today everyone is talking about working from home. It has been forced on us by the current pandemic. Every business sector is affected, but some are better able to adapt than others. In India, our huge business process outsourcing (BPO) industry has adapted with virtual contact centers becoming the new norm. How we work has been transformed dramatically, along with how we communicate with colleagues and how we collaborate.

We work in an industry where it is typically possible for people to work remotely – not all industries and job roles are as lucky. Factories, warehouses, distribution channels, logistics and the like are not as suitable. But ICT/BPO companies have the opportunity to drive this change faster. However, until recently, if you asked any IT business leader their thoughts about 50% of their staff working from home immediately, there would have been significant concerns. They would have cited infrastructure, teamwork, the need for physical presence, access to resources and more as reasons they could not do it. All good reasons. But we did it anyway.

When is working from home not working from home?

In the early days of digital transformation, a key aspect of it was about giving companies and people access to data, on any device, anytime and anywhere. The COVID-19-enforced working from home is an extension of that, workers working from any location, enabled by digital technology, just enforced by circumstances rather than choice.

In India today, around 90% of Indian IT workers have worked from home or somewhere that isn’t their usual workplace. This is not easy, as Indian homes are often busy places with big families living there. Schools are closed and children need connectivity for online learning or entertainment, meaning workers can struggle for physical space and bandwidth on their home Wi-Fi.

It seems to me that “working from home” undersells the flexibility that remote working can enable. The truth is that you can work from anywhere, and while that might be your home, it could also be a co-working space, or a hotel lobby, or a friend’s house. During the current emergency, we need to ensure social distancing in all elements of daily life for health reasons, but if you can work from home with a laptop and a secure connection to company apps, why not from elsewhere in the future? Flexibility can let us untether our schedules and decrease the stress inherent in them and carry out our work from wherever we would like to. As long as productivity does not drop, where is the problem?

Work from anywhere is freedom

Working from home also seems to me a limited expression. Many people enjoy the social interaction of working in an office; the camaraderie and conversations with colleagues are a pleasing reward for the commute. But working from anywhere lets you do that if you want: in the future, you could still work from your office if you choose to. You could work from your house if you choose to. Flexibility gives workers the freedom to choose and the dynamism that digital technologies enable. People being productive while working remotely during the COVID-19 emergency is proof that we can achieve this new approach.

The knock-on effect

Work from anywhere can be extended to all kinds of job functions now. I’ve talked to salespeople who say putting together large deals is harder than ever, because more people are working from home and don’t want to commute to offices. But other account managers are reporting that the digitally-enabled work from anywhere model suits them better.

Previously they might arrange a meeting, drive for two hours to get there and have a hurried meeting with a potential customer. Now, they can work from anywhere, have one-to-one video meetings, and fit more of these meetings into one day because they don’t need to drive. This could have a fundamental impact on sales and marketing.

COVID-19 has forced companies to reexamine other areas of daily business and how they might digitize them. Support functions currently work from home, from administration to accountancy. Even legal departments are investigating digital with digitized contracts, how chatbots might help, how they could use AI to make processes more effective and efficient. Digital is changing everything, so it’s a good time to think further about how you might expand the horizons of working from home into working from anywhere.

How do you do this?

How will we enable this new normal, though? With millions of workers suddenly working in a new environment and in a new dynamic, and with work from anywhere on the table, what do Indian companies need?

Infrastructure will be key to driving productivity and competitiveness in India, and Orange is focused on ensuring resilience and optimized IT to help their customers with business continuity. Cloud connectivity on demand enables the flexible, adjustable bandwidth required to keep remote operations up and running. Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools keep managers and employees in contact and working together no matter where they are, while cloud contact center empowers the customer service operations. Cybersecurity will be essential: more end points of course means companies will need end-to-end security.

It seems to me that working from anywhere is the next logical evolution of working from home, and it is something that will happen. Rajesh Gopinathan, CEO of TCS, recently proposed a secure, borderless workspace plan for their company in which 75% of workers can work remotely and the remaining at office and co-working spaces. This crisis has presented us with the chance to reevaluate ways of working and change them completely. Our point of view can be expanded beyond where we are today, and Orange can guide companies to it.

As businesses develop strategies to adapt quickly to the new normal, telecommuting and effective collaboration between remote workforces has become vital. Read our new ebook for tips on fast and seamless transition to remote work arrangements.

Bala Mahadevan
Bala Mahadevan is CEO, India, at Orange Business Services. His role incorporates leading Global Communications Solutions and Global Services in India, and he is responsible for designing and executing business strategy to drive business growth in India.
 
Bala holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India. He is an accomplished leader with a track record of key contributions in various leadership roles, encompassing business transformation, leading global businesses having multi-location, multi-faceted technology environments, setting up off-on shore development & support centers and more. His intense and varied experience in the IT services industry has cut across various service lines, verticals and local-global geographies for over 30 years.