The southern city’s work culture and infrastructure, also its biggest challenge, have seemingly transformed as multi-national corporations and homegrown IT firms encourage employees to continue working from home. The giant IT parks, that Bengaluru is well-known for, are functioning with a skeletal 5-15% of employees and there is no certainty when the others will return to offices.
At the 69-acre International Tech Park in Whitefield, a prominent IT hub and has Tata Consultancy Services as a large occupier, around 5-7% of 55,000 employees are back at work. In Manyata Embassy Business Park, which houses around 100,000 employees and counts IBM and Cognizant as large occupiers, around 15,000 are attending office.
Despite the easing of restrictions, at least 80% of Cisco employees have the option to WFH, over 90% in Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd and 100% in the case of Dell Technologies. Despite nearly 93% of its 2.4 lakh employees currently working from home, Infosys COO U.B. Pravin Rao recently said the model has not disrupted employee productivity.
In July, Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google and Alphabet in an email said it is extending its voluntary WFH for employees until June next year globally, including India.
“Smaller companies with 20 to 30 employees, like startups, will question the need for an office. But it still makes sense for larger companies with hundreds and thousands of employees to work out of an office," said S. Gopalakrishnan (Kris), co-founder of Infosys and chairman of Karnataka’s vision group on IT said. “Having said that, they will plan to have 20-30% of employees to WFH."
A 21 July mobility report by Google indicates that Karnataka, particularly Bengaluru, has seen the sharpest decline of 56% in need for office spaces when compared to other large cities.
Unlike manufacturing and other sectors, WFH has been easier to implement in the IT industry and the recent earnings show that the strategy has had minimal impact on the top line and productivity even during the lockdown.
The decision makers of large corporations and small startups are however likely to differ on the need for an office or a traditional outlook versus new age work culture argument.
Hema Ravichandar, strategic human resources (HR) advisor said that while it’s “too hasty" to say that companies may abandon IT parks, they will have to look at ‘nearness centres’ that are dispersed across the city, which will provide smaller office hubs for its employees.
The WFH culture will also entail managers changing their outlook towards employees and
reward for results and not just effort, she added.
In the last two decades, Bengaluru has largely grown around these large IT clusters. Real estate prices in the vicinity of the tech parks shot up and to a great extent, has also led to its traffic and other infrastructure woes. The skywalk in front of Embassy Manyata Business Park is used by 22,000 employees daily and Outer Ring Road (ORR) which houses several IT firms and startups accounts for nearly 40% of the 16 million of office space leased in the city annually.
Jitu Virwani, chairman and managing director, Embassy Group, which owns and operates multiple business parks in the city, said most global companies have instructed their employees to work from home.
“…However, companies have not terminated their leases with us and we know that at some point of time, employees will return. And when they do, they will need large space because of the new social distancing norms," Virwani.
Urban infrastructure experts say that the lockdown and strain on the economy has propelled reducing operational costs including real estate, that in turn impacts the concept of large IT parks, consolidated campuses and the local economy of eateries and small shops that depend on this ecosystem to survive.
While fewer people travelling to offices has thinned out traffic and reduced the pressure on poor quality of public infrastructure, it has forced a higher dependence on private vehicles which urban experts say is an “unfortunate side effect".
V.Ravichandar, a Bengaluru-based urban infrastructure expert, said that living in-covid times would influence the government and administration who will have to view “planning from the prism of the pandemic".
He said this may nudge the return of the ‘Indian Telecom Industries township model’, referring to lifestyle in yesteryears Bengaluru, where companies had housing, schools, hospitals and other social infrastructure built within a township of a company.
Ayushman Baruah contributed to the story.