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Is it goodbye to office space?

The Work From Home (WFH) experiment was by and large successful, revealed the Husys Consulting Pulse survey on the impact of Covid-19 on people and industries.

Published: 07th May 2020 12:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th May 2020 09:41 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: The Work From Home (WFH) experiment was by and large successful, revealed the Husys Consulting Pulse survey on the impact of Covid-19 on people and industries. It became the talk of the town especially after it revealed that at least 58 per cent of the companies surveyed implemented WFH 100 per cent, some could implement to the extent of 70 per cent and few less than 50 per cent. We speak to entrepreneurs and senior managers in the city to explore the impact of WFH on conventional office spaces. Like it or not, but working from home has become the norm these few months, and with lockdown showing no signs of letting up, this looks like the new ‘normal’ work mode. “It was difficult co-ordinating, and productivity got hit the first week or so of WFH, but now things have got streamlined and work is on track,” says Namrata Reddy Swarna, AVP at an IT company.

Illustration: TAPAS RANJAN

While Namrata and her team have got into the groove, Pramod Kumar, manager at an MNC is ruing the long hours of work. “I now work 13-14 hours a day! And it’s exhausting. It was much better to work out of an office,” says he. However, Zaheda Anwar, teacher, Secunderabad Public School says, “The period of lockdown has increased our interaction with technology, creating a great learning experience for us.” Sai Ramana Ramanjana, founder, Zessta Software Services feels, “There is a large section of people facing anxiety and stress due to WFH. In fact, some are working overtime and spending a lot of time on calls.” As people grudgingly or willing fit into a routine of WFH, many agree it will affect the need for regular office spaces going forward. Yes, there will be a reduction in space intake in the long term. In the short term, new take ups will be unlikely, says Monika Misra, founder and general manager, Ikeva.

There will definitely be a reduction in office space requirements due to companies planning for contingency in case of such business disruption, says Abhinav Rao, South manager, motor insurance, Tata AIG. His current office size is 15,000 sft and has 400 employees. He explains, “More people will be asked to WFH. Each workspace will add cost to company. In this downturn, that’s the last thing a company wants.” However, he says, “This is valid for a digital economy, old economy such as steel / cement will still need the same amount of office space.” Sai Ramana who has an office size of 2,400 sft and 30 employees also agrees there will be a reduction in demand for rental spaces as companies are already invested in WFH, and some have even chalked out plans to reduce infra expenses in future.

He says, “Some jobs in IT and other industries don’t need to work out of office as long as systems are set for communication, coordination and collaboration.” Sundari Patibandla, CEO and co-founder, iSprout Inspiring Workspaces, feels, “No doubt, there will be some change in working style, however, there will not be any drastic changes, as in India our house atmosphere does not support work environment. Our houses are small and families big.” However, she adds, “There will be slight reduction in conventional office space as companies will not spend lavishly on infrastructure and longer lock-in periods.” Monika envisages that people will restructure their space take-up, which may entail taking up space in a co-working area, post a long term WFH strategy.

She adds, “Co-working spaces might get tail winds from such re-structuring as companies get larger flexibility to choose their real estate portfolio in real time, with greater flexibility to choose a term of agreement.” Agreeing with Monika, Sundari also reckons that, “Once this pandemic is over, co-working will be one of the growing industry as people can spend their money and time on their core business, and infrastructure and managing office can be taken care by a dedicated professional team.” Some of the processes such as support and sales don’t need office visits, so they can be permanently WFH. It not only reduces demand for rentals, but also could have positive impact on city infra,” adds Sai Ramana.

Is the workforce ready for WFH or does it reduce productivity? “Trust is the commodity that should be shown in abundance,” says Abhinav, adding that “the 9 am to 7 pm office is dead. Now only work speaks.” “Some implementations of new digital initiatives at National Mineral Development Corporation is now providing web based and e-learning programmes to keep employees motivated, and to ensure efficient utilisation of time. We are also rolling out more digital initiatives during lockdown to ease communication and learning.” says N Baijendra Kumar, Chairman Managing Director of NMDC.
Currently big or small companies still don’t have infra needed for WFH at scale. Productivity in the current scenario is definitely impacted in a negative way. In the future definitely, companies will plan to have better digital infra to fully enable WFH, says Sai Ramana.

In the scenario of WFH, will commercial rents come down? “Not for new deals unless there is a fire sale. Rents hardly ever come down,” feels Abhinav. “Demand will be affected for commercial real estate, and co-working spaces will have a similar impact. However, this impact will not be for long term, and the industry will have a steep recovery,” assures Monika.

Tamanna S Mehdi tamanna@newindian express.com  @tamannamehdi

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