The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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At home in office far from office

“Please don’t come to office” — the message from the management is not necessarily a prelude to a pink slip.

With improved telecommunication infrastructure at hand, IT companies in the Salt Lake Electronics Complex (Saltlec) are adopting a new formula — sending their senior personnel back home. The work remains the same. Only, it’s done from a comfortable distance.

What is fast catching on globally is still an experiment with technological truth in the state’s IT hub. “It’s at an experimental level, but in a year’s time, we should have 30 per cent of our workforce working from home. There are people, some of them women, in our organisation who are willing to operate from home,” says D.K. Chaudhuri, chief executive officer, Skytech Solutions. The company has, at present, made such arrangements for around 25 employees, who come to office no more than twice a week.

And this is just the beginning, with recruitment on the upswing and the industry inevitably moving towards “telecommuting”. Take the case of IBM India. A few months ago, middle and senior managers received a mail giving them the work-from-home option. Though the scheme didn’t take off, as very few opted for the arrangement, IBM employees feel it’s just a matter of months before similar — and stronger — proposals will come their way from the human resources department.

“The technological requirements aren’t high. One needs a laptop, a telephone line and a virtual private network to work from home,” explains an IT professional at IBM’s Saltlec office.

The arrangement has obvious benefits for the employer — lower cost overheads on electricity and space — and the employee — flexible timings, no commuting hassles and a relaxed work atmosphere.

E-force, another fledgling IT company in Saltlec with offices across the globe, has been using the home-office model for some time. “But only 10 to 15 of the 150 in our organisation are virtually working from home, as there’s a need for round-the-clock interaction with our clients and other offices. But we think the number will go up, as the model has some advantages,” says Sudipto Ghosh, director, technical, at E-force.

But not everyone is convinced. “For a segment of the IT-enabled services industry, where people are hired on contract for communication support, it will have benefits. But in the case of organised operations, where one needs to interact extensively with the team, this model won’t succeed,” says Roopen Roy, managing partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Bottlenecks in bandwidth availability will be the technological deterrent. “Telecommuting is still not well-established in the West and I don’t think more than five to 10 per cent of the workforce will switch to this format,” adds Roy.

Then, there are the psychological barriers. “Remaining away from office will mean one is not in the thick of things and for many, it will be a different form of benching,” explains a techie.

Gaining the employees’ confidence holds the key, feels Chaudhuri of Skytech. “The management must shed its policing attitude and have faith in its people.”

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