Amid Omicron scare, IT firms in Hyderabad may stick to hybrid work model

As 2021 draws to a close with the threat of a third wave of Covid-19 looming on in the new year, the plans of information technology companies for a partial return to office by the middle of 2022 may be delayed and the year is likely to see a hybrid model, a mix of both Work from Home and Work from Office.

At a time when parts of the country are witnessing a spike in Covid cases and new variant Omicron spreading fast, the IT/ITES companies in this key tech hub are on a wait and watch mode.

According to Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association (HYSEA), the apex body of IT/ITES companies in Hyderabad, the strategy of the companies could change as the situation unfolds.

“The industry is on a wait and watch mode at this stage as the impact of Omicron variant is yet to be completely understood and becomes more predictable,” HYESA president Bharani K. Aroll told IANS.

With the experts not ruling out new variants in the days to come, the IT companies are keeping their fingers crossed.

“It has become evident that the Covid is not going away soon and such variants may keep mutating as we step in 2022 . Therefore vaccination and following Covid protocols issued by the government are very important to prevent and control the spread,” said Aroll.

According to him, as of now, the IT companies have not changed their original plans on return to office strategy. “However, the plans could change as the situation with the new variant evolves. The prediction is to see at least 40 per cent on an average return to office by April 2022, if the situation does not get worse,” he added.

Industry observers say many companies are likely to follow Hybrid model, a mix of both Work From Home (WFH) and Work From Office (WFO) during 2022. The employees may be asked to work three days from the office and two days from home and each company may come up with its own model based on its working days and requirements.

Before the recent surge in cases and emergence of Omicron, five per cent of employees of large companies were working from the office. In the mid-size and small companies, around 30 and 70 per cent employees respectively were working from the office.

An overwhelming majority of over 6 lakh IT workforce in Hyderabad has been working from home since March 2020 when the pandemic broke out.

Based on a survey by HYSEA in August, 2021, it was estimated that by the end of March 2022, 79 per cent of companies will have anywhere from 30 per cent to 90 per cent employees WFO. It translates to minimum 2 lakh and maximum 5 lakh employees back in offices by March 2022.

Murali Bollu, CEO, ZenQ, a software testing company, pointed out that prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant, IT companies were planning to ask employees to return to office after the Sankranthi festival in a phased manner. Due to Omicron concerns, these plans are being put on hold until March 2022.

“Since Covid, more IT work is being outsourced to India — partly due to an increase in the momentum of companies adopting digital transformation across the industries globally, and partly due to the great resignation phenomenon. This has caused higher demand for skilled resources in India by all IT companies including startups, IT majors, MNCs and GCCs and resulted in higher salaries and higher attrition. Having gotten used to the comforts and flexibility that the work from home offers, existing and new employees are demanding more work from home flexibility than was existent prior to Covid,” said Murali

“Going forward, more than the virus related concerns, higher attrition and recruitment worries will play a bigger role in companies’ decision on ‘work from home’. Most IT companies are gearing to operate in a hybrid model to accommodate the changing mindset and aspirations to attract and retain employees,” he added.

After the end of the second wave, the IT department of Telangana in July had requested the management of the companies to reopen offices as the livelihood of lakhs of people like cab drivers and food vendors are dependent on the sector.

The health department also urged the management of IT companies in September to resume work from the office. However, this did not yield the desired result as the majority of the big employers raised concerns that reopening of offices might lead to a third wave.

Satyanarayana Mathala, President of Telangana Facilities Management Council (TFMC), believes that 2022 is a way forward to open offices with following Covid protocol.

TFMC, the apex body of the facilities professionals who manage the premises of IT work places, is working to create awareness among IT/ITES companies on mandatory vaccination procedures.

“Currently most of the offices are running with 20 per cent to 30 per cent capacity who are all fully vaccinated with both doses. In the coming months many companies are creating a long term plan to get the booster vaccination program as part of the back to office initiative. Many companies will follow the hybrid model for the year 2022. Based on the local virus spread and government norms, the companies will keep changing the working models,” said Satyanarayana.

He is of the view that a booster dose will help companies welcome back about half of their employees to office. “The nine month duration from the day of last dose taken will be updated to all the employees. Many companies are using AI application to track the vaccination program and update employees on a regular basis which will help us to complete their third dose program, by this it will help all companies to welcome employees back to office with 40 per cent to 50 per cent of staff,” Satynarayana explained.

“In my view the Work from Home is here to stay in what I call the Co-Covid world. The variants like Delta, Omicron and what is already emerging Demicron now. The extent may vary but most organisations especially IT will find their own version of WFH. The variants may be there for a number of days, locations and models of engagement. It’s not just WFH but the world is moving to ‘Anything from Home’. More and more innovations will move in that direction as we look at 2022 and beyond,” said Viiveck Verma, Founder, Upsurge Global and President, Society for Advancement of Human Endeavour (SAHE)

According to HYSEA survey, 70 per cent of the companies feel that hybrid will be the future work model. As many as 37 per cent companies prefer hybrid model (WFH+WFO) based on rotation while 33 per cent are for hybrid model with partial week WFH and partial week WFO.