R Sukumar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi


There are many companies that have discovered the benefits of WFH in the course of this very strange year.(Bloomberg file photo)

 
 
 
 

 

The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but there would appear to be a mini-boom in tech jobs in Bengaluru, Chennai, and some of the smaller cities in the South that have traditionally been hubs for technology businesses, with many of the new jobs coming from multinational companies that already have a presence in these regions. It is anecdotal, but not counterintuitive.

In a conversation with this columnist in September, ahead of the launch of his book, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke of how his company would try and get people back to work as soon as it was safe to do so because WFH wasn’t “as good as being together and talking about things”. He added that Netflix wasn’t “optimising the culture for the pandemic” and spoke of the challenges of remote work. “We are all coasting on relationships we built before Covid. I think it is very challenging to develop new employees who never get to know us.” Hastings said that while in his experience “the physical workplace is superior”, this was the case for him, and that “maybe for a 20-year old who grew up on Tinder” the reverse would be true.

I feel exactly the same way, but there are many companies that have discovered the benefits of WFH in the course of this very strange year. At least some of them have decided that a significant portion of their workforce will continue to WFH even after the pandemic. This isn’t always driven by the right motives – cost, not quality of life, is a driver in many cases – and there may be a price to pay for it down the line (in terms of organisational or workspace culture, and all that contributes to the business), but WFH is here to stay. This is true in every geography.

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Companies that were pioneers in outsourcing work to India – and tech firms are on top of this list by a long distance – are figuring out that if they are anyway going to move to remote working for many of their employees, then they might as well – provided the right kind of people are available – move those jobs in India, where they could be remote, or not.

That could explain the scramble for technology workers in Bengaluru. One technology recruiter I spoke to made it sound like the boom days of the late 1990s and mid-2000s, when technology workers could and would literally walk across the road to their new companies (I wonder what the WFH equivalent of that could be). He might be overstating the intensity, but the trend is clearly there.

It is also becoming clear that this trend could extend well beyond technology. Any work that is currently being done remotely, and which the company believes can continue to be done remotely, is work that is no longer restricted by geography, no matter what might previously have been assumed. All such work (or at least some of it), could move – and all the things that worked to India’s advantage during the first waves of IT and business process outsourcing will likely work for it in this context. That includes a well-educated, technically savvy, English-speaking workforce; excellent connectivity; and lower salaries and cost of living than in most Western nations.

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While the anecdotes I have heard have come Bengaluru and Chennai, this is a trend any city with good connectivity, schools, and health care facilities, can leverage to its advantage (readers will notice that I didn’t use the more expansive quality-of-life descriptor simply because it is very tough for a city to suddenly improve its).

Urban renewal, in India’s current, emerging and aspiring outsourcing hubs should be part of the post-Covid plans of state governments if they want to tap into it.