Back to office: Some offices have opened fully, others continue with hybrid model

While states have eased pandemic restrictions, not all companies are ready to call employees back to the office. Now, the new variant of the coronavirus isn't making things easier.

The emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is becoming a cause of concern for Indian Inc. just when it appeared that things were getting back to normal.

Many companies that had just about resumed work from the office are watching the situation closely before considering a return to work from home. Companies that were set to call employees back to the office are rethinking their plans.

India has reported at least 23 cases of the new COVID-19 variant that was detected by scientists in South Africa last month. Although the number is small, there is still uncertainty about how quickly the new variant can spread and how severely it can affect people.

Food and beverage company Nestle India continues to let employees work from home, but was considering relaxing travel norms for its staff. Now, in the wake of the Omicron threat, the company is again taking precautions. There could be some impact from the new variant, said Rahul Puri, MD of Mukta A2 Cinemas, a chain by Mukta Arts, the company founded by veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai.

"But right now, we are waiting and watching," said Puri.

At Wonderla Holidays, which operates amusement parks in Kochi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, employees are back in the office. Arun K Chittilappilly, managing director, said the company is monitoring the situation.

"As of now, there are no government guidelines on the working of offices. So, there are no plans or discussions to switch to work from home mode," said Chittilappilly.

Restrictions eased

States including Maharashtra, Delhi and Tamil Nadu started easing pandemic restrictions in June as the second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country abated. However, many companies haven't fully opened their offices yet and are following a hybrid model, allowing some employees to work from home.

"We continue to operate with a hybrid model, with office strength typically ranging between 40 and 50 percent," Amitav Mukherji, head of corporate human resources at ITC, told Moneycontrol.

Consumer goods company Marico is calling employees to the office in shifts.

"At the moment, 20-25 percent of our corporate office members are coming in on an alternate week roster model. As the situation continues to evolve, we have opened our office and members are currently coming to the office on a mix of roster basis and on a voluntary and need basis in collaboration with our business continuity teams," a Marico spokesperson said.

Not all companies are continuing with work from home.

"We have all of our employees back in the head office. We have been at full strength since November 1," said Puri of Mukta A2 Cinemas. "We have opened the office fully and all employees are attending. Cinemas need people to be at the office and with the situation in Mumbai much improved and all employees fully vaccinated, we are happy to open the office fully."

Puri said the company is "not extending work from home unless there is a critical need like someone is diagnosed with COVID or someone is showing symptoms of COVID. In such a case, work from home will be mandated."

Chittilappilly of Wonderla Holidays said as part of the service sector, offline work resumed in August after the reopening of the theme parks.

"Corporate employees are given the flexibility to work from home thrice a week. Also, 98 percent of our employees are working from the office since August and the remaining 2 percent will join by April," he said.

Whether they follow a hybrid model or are calling all employees back to the office, companies are emphasising on safety and precautions.

Safety remains key

ITC's Mukherji said that the company is monitoring the situation and has medical equipment and support in place for employees and family members, should the need arise.

"Over 90 percent of the employees, family members and service providers are vaccinated with both doses. We continue to emphasise the wearing of N95 masks, social distancing and hand sanitisation," he said. Puri said, "At the sites, all cinema employees are mandated to be fully vaccinated in certain states like Maharashtra."

The Marico spokesperson said the company is ensuring that the required safety protocols and infrastructure are made available for those working in the office.

"In order to ensure the safety of all members, we have instituted guidelines that allow only members who have been fully vaccinated with both doses three weeks prior to work from the office," the spokesperson said.

Date: 10th December, 2021