Companies wary of bringing 33% staff back to offices

Kolkata | Mumbai | Bengaluru | New Delhi: White-collar workplaces that had emptied out during the first two phases of the lockdown mostly stayed empty on Monday, even though the government’s rules for lockdown extension permitted offices to host one-third of staff strength.

Nearly two dozen leading companies that ET spoke to said employee safety and risk management were their top priority. Concerns that even one employee testing positive may have big negative impact on the office were also on their mind.

Deloitte, ITC, HUL, Amazon, KPMG, EY, McKinsey & Co, BCG, Bain & Co, Pfizer, Citi, RPG Group and Welspun Group, among others, said they were in a wait-and-watch mode.

“We will be very careful about coming back to work. One bad incident can throw us back by a 100 days,” said SV Nathan, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India. The decision has to be taken in consultations with the employees about how comfortable they are on returning to office and based on the assessment of how safe it is to call them back, he said.

“It’s not just about employee safety, there’s a cost factor too if someone gets infected. It would mean shutting down the office, sending others into quarantine etc,” said an HR head at a MNC. He spoke off record.

Some companies said the earliest they planned to resume work from office is May 18, that is, after the lockdown period is over.

Several Factors at Play

Even then, these companies said, the number of employees coming to office will depend on factors like social distancing norms, length of travel for various employees and prioritising certain roles.

There are other constraints as well, companies said, such as means of travel for people without their own vehicle and those living in zones where public transport is not functional. New travel safety norms mandating fewer passengers in a vehicle will hike costs for companies providing transport.

HR heads said the situation now needs to be dealt with as it evolves. So, some like RPG Group and Pfizer (which have had their plants operational) have started the process of readying their offices to open tentatively on May 18 while others like KPMG said they will start it only after May 24.

McKinsey & Co too will take a call after May 17 and is trying to figure out best solutions for its staff going to client locations. As of now its entire workforce in India is working from home. EY too continues to work from home. Boston Consulting Group is likely to start the process of sanitisation and roster-making next week.

Employees at all of HUL’s corporate offices are working from home, while at ITC, people have been advised to WFH unless required to go in for operational reasons.

Even companies like Citi and Vodafone Idea, operating in essential services sectors like banking and telecom, and which have deployed critical operations and field staff through the lockdown, say nothing has changed from them as of today in terms of corporate offices. They are either shut or operating with an average 10-15% strength.


The IT services industry is looking to ramp up its workforce in offices in a phased manner. “Our industry was functioning at nearly 2% staff from offices during the lockdown and we are ramping up this to up to 15%. It will take at least two to three days for things to settle,” said Sangeeta Gupta, chief strategy officer, Nasscom, the IT-BPM industry body.

While the industry has sought some clarifications from the local governments about allowing business process management (BPM) companies to work in shifts; some captives and multi-national technology firms continue to work from home until at least May 31.

A large tech services company headquartered in Bengaluru is planning to bring back employees to offices in a phased manner. The company would ensure all its offices falling in green zones have a proper work environment for the employees, said an executive. BPM major WNS said nearly 600 of its more than 44,000 employees are going to offices across India and other countries as on May 4.


Manufacturers and exporters saw limited production activities on Monday with many factories streamlining their maintenance and hygiene measures for the days ahead.

Lifting of restrictions have helped in opening of around 40% offices and factories, but exporters say warehouses are still shut and finding labour to run them remains a challenge. Bhiwandi, which houses one of India’s largest warehouses, remains shut with raw material stuck there, and states like Punjab, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are yet to provide clarity on opening up.

“Warehouses are still closed and with raw materials lying there, it is a challenge to resume manufacturing. The situation has improved with lifting of restrictions but labour shortage is a major issue,” said Ajay Sahai, director general, Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO).

According to the chairman of a Delhi-based textile company with factories in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, production has begun for the export market at 15% lower price as overseas customers have negotiated discounts.

“Our factory in Gujarat is in green zone and working with 50% workforce, while in Uttar Pradesh only 30% labour is available. We have scattered the lunch and tea timings to avoid bunching of staff,” he said.

“Of the offices and factories that were eligible to open, around 10-15% opened on Monday, but the attendance was almost 15-20% with maintenance, health and hygiene measures being streamlined,” said Ravi Sehgal, chairman, Engineering Export Promotion Council.

Some employers are awaiting clarity from states while others have begun drawing up lists of their employees’ health conditions and comorbidities.

Source Article