Why a complete return to the office may not be the best approach for Indian companies

The global business landscape has undergone a seismic shift due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing companies to reevaluate their traditional models of operation. The concept of work has been redefined, and with it, the idea of returning to the office in its entirety has come under scrutiny. By examining the multifaceted implications on productivity, employee well-being, and organisational dynamics, we aim to underscore the significance of a more thoughtful and adaptable approach to the post-pandemic work landscape. 

Many leaders are worried that remote work can lead to less teamwork and fewer new ideas. Some people believe that strong relationships can only be formed when people work together in the same office. Also, there are worries that younger employees might face difficulties when they work from home.

Even though these worries are important, the COVID-19 pandemic gave us a chance to try different ways of working. Rather than strategically embracing and structuring these newfound approaches while upholding a strong commitment to employee well-being, there seems to be an abrupt shift towards an emphasis on productivity. This means they want all employees to come back to the office, even if it’s not the best option for everyone.

In the context of Indian companies, there are compelling reasons to consider why an all encompassing return to the office might not be the most advantageous path forward.

1. Health and Safety Considerations

As the pandemic’s impact lingers, the health and safety of employees remains paramount. A complete return to office settings could expose employees to potential health risks, especially considering the densely populated urban centres of India. The ongoing uncertainties related to the virus and the emergence of new variants highlight the need for caution. Rather than rushing back to the office, companies should prioritise employee well-being and adhere to health guidelines.

2. Infrastructure and Commute Challenges

For many Indian cities, the daily commute involves navigating through congested roads or packed public transportation systems. A wholesale return to the office could amplify these challenges, leading to prolonged commutes and increased stress for employees.  If companies allow their employees to choose whether they work from home or the office, it could make things easier. Imagine if not everyone had to travel to work on the same days. This could help reduce the traffic jams and the overcrowding in public transport. Less traffic and crowded public transport mean less pollution and a more pleasant environment. Adopting a flexible work arrangement, where employees can choose between remote and office work, can alleviate traffic congestion and foster a more balanced work-life routine.

3. Enhanced Productivity and Efficiency

Interestingly, the pandemic triggered trial of remote work has revealed something surprising: employees can actually get a lot of work done while staying at home. It turns out that without the distractions of the office, people can focus better, and being able to set up their own work area in a way that suits them has made many people work more effectively. 

However, if companies insist on everyone coming back to the office in the same way as before, it could squash this newfound efficiency. That’s why it seems like a smarter idea for companies to think about a mix of both remote and office work. This is called a hybrid model. In this approach, employees get to enjoy the benefits of working from home when they need to, but also have the chance to interact with colleagues and be part of the office environment when it makes sense.

This way, companies can get the best of both worlds. They can keep the high productivity that has been seen during remote work, while also keeping the collaboration and team spirit that comes from working together in the office. This hybrid way of working could be a win-win solution for both companies and their employees.

4. Employee Well-Being and Job Satisfaction

Remote work has brought forth a paradigm shift in terms of work-life balance. The ability to spend more time with family and engage in personal pursuits has contributed to improved job satisfaction. Completely reverting to office-centric work arrangements could disrupt this equilibrium and affect the mental well-being of employees. Embracing flexibility in where and how work is conducted can contribute positively to employee morale.

5. Attracting and Retaining Talent

The talent landscape has evolved, with remote work options now being a critical factor in attracting and retaining top tier professionals. Companies that provide flexible work arrangements stand to gain a competitive edge in the race for talent. 

Imagine there’s a competition among companies to find the most skilled and talented workers. By allowing employees to work from home or other locations, companies can have a leading edge in this competition. For example, Indian companies have a chance to get ahead in this “race for talent” if they give their employees the choice to work from wherever they are most comfortable and productive.

So, in a nutshell, it not only helps them attract and keep skilled professionals but also gives them a better chance to find the right people from various places, which can make their teams even stronger.

In a recent podcast by McKinsey featuring Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford Economics Professor, the focus is on how to manage the hybrid approach effectively. According to the research, it’s beneficial to have specific days when all employees work from home and other days when they all come to the office. This helps maintain a consistent routine and boosts collaboration and productivity.

This approach involves thinking on a bigger scale, which, of course, needs more time. Organisations must work together and partner with the Government of India to improve cities and infrastructure. By embracing a more flexible and adaptable work model, Indian companies can navigate the post-pandemic landscape successfully, ensuring the well-being of their workforce while remaining competitive and innovative.