Simply figuring out how to ship office equipment was a tough task. “So the first and foremost thing was working with the government to say, ‘Allow us to run trucks by which we will be able to move things to our employees,'” Subramaniam, the COO of TCS, told CNN Business.
The Indian IT behemoth — which employs more than half a million workers all over the world — also needed to head off any concerns about data and privacy for a global client list that includes
“We had to go and talk to our customers and get their nod as well, because contractually, we are expected to perform the work only from an approved location,” Subramaniam said.
TCS employs more than 500,000 people. It declined to reveal how many of them are based in India, but it says it is the country’s largest private employer. And like most other large companies in Asia’s third largest economy, TCS had hardly ever experimented with remote work before the pandemic.
But within three weeks of India’s lockdown taking effect last year, 96% of TCS staff were working remotely. The company says the model has worked so well that it never wants to go back.
The company, which has a stock market value of $166 billion, now predicts that by 2025, no more than 25% of its employees will need to work from the office. Rival IT services firm Infosys, which employees over 250,000 people, is also planning to switch to a hybrid model after the pandemic.
That kind of shift could have major implications not just for India’s massive IT industry, but the country’s entire economy.
Productivity and sustainability
TCS believes it can boost productivity by 25% by embracing more remote work, Subramaniam said.
“Many of our employees feel that they have found a solution to their work-life balance,” he added. “So, when you are happy, naturally, your productivity is better.”
Like the rest of the Indian economy, TCS suffered in the months following the 2020 lockdown, as its net profit slumped nearly 14% in the June quarter, compared to the same time in 2019.
“Every commitment that we made to our customers … was executed,” Subramaniam said, adding that even while working remotely, the firm added nearly 60 new clients and hired nearly 45,000 people.
The company also hopes to contribute to a cleaner environment by working more from home.
TCS believes that having most of its employees work remotely could reduce its global carbon footprint by 70% by 2025, compared to a decade earlier.
“The environment has become a lot cleaner” already over the last year, said Subramaniam.
“We are getting some new neighbors,” he added. “I’m seeing birds that I’ve not seen in my life.”
Infosys — which after TCS is the second largest IT company in India — said most of its employees want to switch to a hybrid model. The company plans to have two-thirds of its staff in the office at any given point — on a rotation basis — while the remainder can work from home, according to Richard Lobo, head of human resources at Infosys.
Unlike TCS, Infosys does not have a timeline for implementing its plan yet, but Lobo does not see the company returning to its old way of functioning. “I sincerely hope we don’t go back fully,” he told CNN Business. “If we go back, we would have lost all the learnings of remote [work],” he added.
The office economy
Should working from home become standard practice for even more major Indian employers, some recruiters and government officials warn that kind of migration away from the office could have serious consequences for other industries.
“It is not particularly good news for infrastructure companies, and other business sectors, such as travel and food, which flourish when people work from offices,” said Aditya Mishra, founder of staffing agency Ciel HR Services. He added that such a shift could affect the livelihoods of janitors, florists, security guards, electricians and others who depend on people committing to office life.
Subramaniam of TCS acknowledged that the concern about mass remote work is a “valid point,” because for every IT job that is created in the country, four to five other jobs — in sectors ranging from food delivery to transport — are also created.
Small towns may benefit
A more widespread shift to a working from home model could also lead to redistribution of wealth in other ways, according to Mishra, the recruiter.
If executives can perform high-paying IT jobs from a wider variety of locations, that may “improve quality of life in smaller towns in India,” he said.
A fundamental shift in where a company’s workforce is based, though, may require companies to reconsider things like pay and benefits offered to their employees.
“We’ve got to think through all of this,” said Subramaniam, when asked whether people would be paid the same if they worked in a smaller city, rather than in places like Mumbai or Bangalore.
Mishra also believes that other IT rivals may suffer when it comes to “attracting good talent,” if they do not offer the kind of flexibility that TCS is planning.