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View from India: Coronavirus pandemic sees more people working from home

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The novel coronavirus pandemic has kicked off the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. 'Corporate India' is seeing a surge in remote-working tools.

A health outbreak of the magnitude of coronavirus has moved many organisations to look at the options for working from home. Though workplaces are being sanitised, many employees feel compelled to work from home due to an unprecedented fear of viral infection.

Remote work has now become a norm for companies large and small. Employees are working from home remotely using collaborative software. This helps in intra-office communication. Members of a distributed workforce can remain synced together through apps such as Skype, video conferencing and telepresence. Work is allocated and deadlines or targets are met accordingly. Cloud-based solutions are being leveraged so that employees can work computer or even smartphone, wherever they are based.  

Some of the popular remote working tools include WeChat Work, the enterprise product from the WeChat app, Google Chat and Video chat apps, which facilitate realtime team chat. Remote workers work in borderless teams.

“Aligned with our ‘People First’ philosophy, we have initiated a work from home option for all our employees. The objective is first to ensure their health and safety of our employees and their families, eliminate the possibility of any of our employees contracting the virus due to travel through public transport, gatherings, meetings and encourage ‘social distancing,’” said B.S. Rao, vice president, CtrlS Datacenters Ltd. The company has implemented ‘remote working’ across the organisation powered by technologies such as remote collaboration and productivity tools, virtual private networks (VPN), cloud and automation.

Issues related to security and data need to be addressed in the case of remote work. For instance, the Wi-Fi networks need to be safe and secure because professionals working from home will be accessing official data. This data can be confidential in nature and can also cut across geographies. Professionals adhering to a fully remote workplace tend to use personal devices for official work. Security layers need to be scaled up to combat cyber crime. A firewall is another means to protect the device from data leakage and malware. Geofencing can be tapped for asset management needs.

An official remote workplace policy needs to be in place. “CtrlS board led by our chairman and founder, Sridhar Pinnapureddy, has personally overseen the strategic migration of work-from-office to work-from-home to ensure people's health safety. The trust reposed in people by the board that they will be able to deliver consistent results in times of crisis, such as COVID-19, is reinforced by the fact that we have had zero erosion of people productivity and their quality of work,” explained Rao.

Apex body Nasscom (National Association of Software & Service Companies) has issued a statement indicating that coronavirus and its spread across the world is a key area of concern for governments, corporates and citizens globally: “Nasscom and the technology industry are fully committed to deploy the necessary precautions required to deal with this situation. Business continuity and employee safety remains our key priority as an industry. The industry is also putting in place contingency measures and leveraging technology to ensure business continuity for customers and employees”.

The industry is extensively deploying technology solutions and online collaboration tools for business interactions, client meetings and internal workouts. Employees work from home wherever possible. The apex body has appealed to the government to allow flexibility in specific policies for SEZ/STPI units that restrict work from home. This is critical for companies to ensure business continuity.

“The industry has a large footprint of on-shoring centres and offshore and client requirements can be met through such centres, if required. The industry has also put in place business continuity plans and has internal taskforces to monitor the situation continuously,” indicated the Nasscom statement.

Meanwhile, an official statement from Microsoft said: “Our top concern is the wellbeing of our employees and supporting our customers in dealing with business impact during these challenging times. By making Teams available to as many people as possible, we hope that we can support public health and safety by making remote work even easier.” 

Mobile phones are another dimension to this health disaster. On the one hand, Chinese smartphone manufacturers have put new launches on hold. On the other, India is tapping the existing mobile community for disseminating information on n-CoV. The country is home to 1.1 billion smart and feature phones. The telecom authorities decided to leverage the devices to spread coronavirus awareness messages from the health ministry. The recording begins with a cough, followed by a 30-second audio message in Hindi or English about protection against the virus.

Telecom operators like Bharti Airtel, BSNL, Reliance Jio and Vodafone-Idea have replaced their ringtones as per the notification from the Department of Telecommunications. There’s even a helpline number. Apart from that, the health ministry of India has designated testing sites across India.

Cancelled flights; visas being suspended to many overseas destinations; cancelled conferences, and disruptions across verticals are the cascading effects of the coronavirus (covid-19). Meeting revenue targets may be a tough call if covid-19 continues, as business travel to virus-hit locations has been put on hold. It has resulted in an inherent fear among people. With that, comes an economy drain. With the rapidly proliferating impact of virus, offices are shut, businesses have nosedived and public places have been deserted.

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