Indian government moves to encourage working from home for call center staff

The Department of Telecommunications has relaxed its rules for ITeS firms offering voice-based services, making it easier for staff to work from home through the COVID-19 epidemic. Indian ITeS firms, meanwhile, continue to postpone a full return to the office.

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India’s Department of Telecommunications has issued revised guidelines for Indian companies offering voice-based business process outsourcing services, allowing more of their staff to work from home in response to the continuing COVID-19 epidemic.

The guidelines ease operational restrictions on ITeS businesses the DOT classes as OSPs (other service providers), which handle calls on behalf of other companies and fall under the DOT’s rules for telecommunications operators when they route calls from one location to another.

Although the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in India each week has dropped significantly since its September peak, there was a new uptick at the start of November, showing that enterprises need to remain vigilant as they plan their return to the office.

The DOT’s new regime for OSPs has removed all registrations and compliance requirements for carrying out work beyond office buildings, treating home workers as the same as remote agents. The change enables employees to work from anywhere. Requirements such as bank guarantees, for static IPs frequent reporting obligations, the publication of network diagram, penal provisions have also been done away with.

Sharath Srinivasamurthy, research director for enterprise solutions and ICT practices at IDC India, believes the move will provide flexibility to Indian employees. “This also opens the Indian BPO and ITeS industry to a wider talent pool, as location is no longer a constraint,” he said, adding that it could also boost job creation. “The IT industry has put India on the global map and this move demonstrates the government’s commitment towards supporting the industry.”

Anticipated move

Days before the DOT made its announcement, Wipro extended its work-from-home policy for some staff until early next year. “Keeping the safety and wellbeing of our employees in mind, we have decided to extend work from home for employees in India and the US till January 18, 2021,” the company said. “As of now, nearly 98% of our employees are working from home.”

In other countries Wipro said any extension of work-from-home rules will depend on the pandemic situation, local guidelines, and customer requirements.

Even though Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji had earlier expressed his desire for employees to return to the office, he welcomed the government announcement. “This is truly long term, progressive thinking by the Government which will make our technology industry that much more competitive.  Working from anywhere has become the new reality and thank you for seeing this,” he tweeted.

Around three-quarters of Indian employees currently working from home do not want to risk returning to the office for fear of contracting the virus, according to a survey by workforce and human capital management cloud services provider Kronos.

Taking these apprehensions into consideration, Tech Mahindra had initially left the decision of returning to the office entirely to its employees. They can either choose to work from the office or home and, for those returning to the office, the company is ensuring all possible safety and sanitation measures. Recent reports say one-fourth of its employees are already back in the office. The company uses its Mhealthy app to observe the health of its staff.

IT firms that have started moving employees back to the office are taking a variety of measures to ensure employee safety, IDC’s Srinivasamurthy said, reeling off a long list of examples of positive actions businesses have taken: “The premises are being sanitized regularly. Temperature checks and self-declarations are in place. Technologies including IoT, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are being leveraged for ensuring social distancing, decision making, alerts, and reporting. Chatbots and helpdesks have been set up to address employee queries. HVAC refresh, contactless entry, GPS, and BLE enabled contact tracing are also being put in place. Sanitized office vehicles with alternate seating arrangements, changes in seating arrangements at the office to ensure adequate distancing measures are in place. Some IT firms have also created quarantine facilities for employees to isolate themselves so that their families don’t get infected.”

A graduated approach

One approach companies have taken is to rank employees they want back in the office first according to factors like client preferences, instead of bringing everyone to the office together.

Following that pattern, HCL is planning to bring around 20 percent of its workforce back to the office one day a week. Current only 6 percent of its employees work from the office. The company also will allow certain employees to operate out of office. Employees age 50–55 or over, or those with children below the age of five or parents aged over 50 living with them are exempt from working in the office.

TCS had earlier announced that it expects 75 percent of its employees will be permanently working from home by 2025. Currently, TCS has 97% of employees working from home.

Infosys too had only 5 percent of employees working at the office in the month of August. It plans to have 35-50 percent of its employees work from home permanently in future.

Srinivasamurthy expects the timelines and the detailed execution plan to vary for different IT companies. “Functions that need the use of labs, R&D facilities which cannot be moved home are being considered as preferred candidates for moving employees back to work. Some of the projects that deal with extremely customer sensitive data, like banking, insurance, healthcare-related projects, are also potential candidates for early movement to office,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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