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BENGALURU : Zoho Corp. plans to hire up to 2,000 people for its rural offices by December end as the software-as-a-service (SaaS) unicorn continues to bolster its rural network at a time when the pandemic is rewriting the rules of operating from large brick-and-mortar offices in main urban centres.

“About 85% of the new hires will be for India. We have a good pipeline of hiring, and it will continue next year," Sridhar Vembu, co-founder and chief executive at Zoho, said in an interview.

Zoho currently has about 10,000 people globally.

The new hires will be made across all functions, including software development, support, marketing, sales and administration, Vembu said.

“We need all roles because when we are setting up rural centres, we need people with local knowledge who can run these centres from an operations point of view," he said.

Zoho has been promoting the reverse migration of talent with the concept of rural offices. These are small establishments that can accommodate 20-60 people. It opened its first rural office in 2011 in Tenkasi, a village in Tamil Nadu.

Zoho Desk, the company’s customer support software, was developed and launched from the Tenkasi office in 2016. The Tenkasi office currently has about 500 employees.

To source talent locally, Zoho started a branch of Zoho Schools of Learning—previously called Zoho University—in Tenkasi. As part of this, local high school students are inducted and trained for 18 months and then absorbed into the firm. Currently, about a tenth of Zoho’s total workforce consists of students who came through this programme. To further expand Zoho’s rural presence, Vembu moved from Pleasanton in California to Tenkasi in October 2019. Vembu said his vision of making engineers work in rural regions or closer to their homes was in the pipeline for years, but the pandemic hastened his plans.

Zoho has set up around 20 such satellite or rural offices in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, and Bihar. Similar rural centres are also being planned in Texas in the US and European Union.

Rural centres have an advantage as they are less populated and do not use as many air conditioners as urban offices. “Post pandemic, most rural centres have an occupancy of 40-50% while the main office in Chennai has 10% occupancy," he said.

Industry observers said expanding rural centres is a win-win strategy for staff and employers. “The pandemic has significantly realigned how work is done. As operational and living costs can be high in metro cities, such centres make perfect sense. Staff and employers are confident of delivering work remotely, so this is a smart decision," said Sanchit Vir Gogia, CEO and chief analyst, Greyhound Research.

Meanwhile, even as startups worldwide continue to raise billions of dollars, Zoho has preferred to remain bootstrapped. On a consolidated basis, it closed FY20, with revenues rising to 4,386 crore from 3,411 crore the previous year. Profit jumped 55% annually to 801 crore for the fiscal to March 2020.

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