Flexibility sought in WFH guidelines for companies in special economic zones

While welcoming the notification from the Ministry of Commerce to extend the duration of remote-working for units in these zones, organisations seek greater leeway in planning their workforce’s return to office

November 16, 2022 10:08 am | Updated 10:08 am IST

Photo used for representational purpose only

Photo used for representational purpose only

NextGen Healthcare’s office at Ecospace Business Park in Bengaluru is spacious, well-lit, elaborately-furnished and aesthetic to boot. The beauty derives as much from a kind thought as it does from design. The walls of the office are adorned by paintings done by its employees. There is also a breakout area, which is unlikely to be used by these employees ever again.

NextGen Healthcare is all set to give up this office at the special economic zone (SEZ). The decision to vacate the space follows a notification from the Ministry of Commerce concerning Work From Home (WFH) for units in any SEZ.

According to the notification, a company operating from any SEZ can continue with the WFH arrangement for a maximum period of one year, offering this option to 50 per cent of its workforce, including contractual employees. The Development Commissioner of SEZs can use their discretion to approve a higher number of employees (more than 50%) for WFH based on a bonafide reason, which has to be set down in writing.

NextGen Healthcare had switched to a fully-remote working model following the pandemic, and it has decided to stick to it — at least for some more time.

Our pulse surveys have shown employees are not keen on working from office as of now and it is based on their decision and the trust that we have in them that we let go of our office space at the SEZ, say Yasmeen Shaikh, vice-president, Human Resources India and Chandradip Dass, managing director and senior vice-president (R&D), NextGen Healthcare.

In Chennai, an American multinational company with multiple offices, has started consolidating its space, dropping a few addresses in the process, and asking employees to either work from office or adopt a hybrid model that is also on offer.

One who heads a distributed team of 70, straddling cities, Nithya V notes that following the pandemic, there is a tacit understanding that companies would be more empathetic towards the challenges and needs of employees. In keeping with this thinking, the company is not forcing the switch to work-from-office, but making the transition as palatable and organic as possible.

“We all have largely been working from home, but from next month, those in the base location and new joinees will be working from office for two or three days a week. This will be gradually followed by those from other locations,” says Nithya.

Nithya observes that when online collaboration does not quite deliver the results and a flexible work model throws up more challenges than it solves when offered to some employees, companies may have to adopt a hard stance in this matter.

“Hybrid working is hard,” says Nithya, adding that it however might be necessary in some cases.

Nithya notes that those struggling to meet their deliverables functioning in the WFH format have been asked to work from office twice or thrice a week.

Simplifying WFH

NASSCOM has tried to put across its views in this matter to the Ministry of Commerce, particularly the procedural challenges resulting from acting on this notification.

The industry needs more time and flexibility to implement WFH and there is a need to avoid different interpretations in different SEZs on the requirements under the notification.

“The government has been very supportive and they are looking into addressing the issues so that the industry has adequate time and flexibility and the hybrid work model can evolve organically,” says Ashish Aggarwal, vice-president, public policy, NASSCOM.

“While we observe a high percentage of remote working today, the industry is yet to settle into what the new normal of the hybrid work model will be in future. The industry continues to be in a growth mode and even with the hybrid model there is a need for more office space. We see industry’s interest growing in tier 2 and 3 cities and this is a win-win in the context of a distributed workforce.”

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