Ever-Evolving WFH Challenges

Work Frome Home policies aren’t new to the industry. Some leading IT companies have championed flexible work policies more than a decade ago; the objectives were different then


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The Work from Home (WFH) regulatory framework is evolving, with an inclusive approach than ever before. Due to the growing relevance of WFH concept, the Union Labour and Employment Ministry in December 2020, published a draft Model Standing Orders (MSOs) for the service sector. These are legallybinding documents, possibly in the near future, that explain the rules of conduct for employers and employees in industrial establishments that have 300 workers or more.

The Government proposed to codify rules for “work from home” for the service industry. However, we have to bear in mind that all of these rules will have to be subject to the conditions of hire or employment agreement between the workforce and their employer. However, at this time, regulatory norms for work from home have not been officially prescribed. Already, several leading IT and ITES companies have come up with their own robust, agile, and innovative WFH policies that meet both their specific business requirements as well as their employees’ reasonable expectations and safety. In fact, WFH policies aren’t new to the industry. Some leading IT companies have championed flexible work policies more than a decade ago. The objectives were different then; it was discretionary and was primarily meant for impacting their business positively, improving their talent acquisition approaches and for reducing their environmental footprint.

On the one hand, WFH option has given phenomenal advantages, for instance, it has paved the way for a positive shift of gender balance in favour of women. The constraints of transport and working late in offices had always affected their career progression. This change is a boon in disguise. On the other hand, the WFH regulations in its current stage has more scope for an inclusive workforce both geographically as well as demographically.

Before these areas become greyer during practice or implementation, service sector must gear up to iron out any concerns leveraging appropriate channels and forums through their representatives – non-governmental trade associations and advocacy groups such as NASSCOM and CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) among others. In fact, NASSCOM hassubmitted its recommendations to the GoI concerning changes to many of the labour laws. Some of theserecommendationsseek relaxations in terms of business hours, work hours, and even exemption from registration requirements. While these recommendations can be considered as a benchmark for regulations, they are primarily drafted, keeping in mind a very small part of the service industry.

In early 2019, industries in India witnessed the introduction of four Labour codes. These codes intend to regulate conditions of work for all sectors of business. Although these legislations don’t explicitly specify workplace safety regulations pertaining to home-based workplaces, organizations must proactively put some basic measures in place.

Any regulations pertaining to WFH from the Ministry of Labour should touch upon the following points:

1. Working hours. This must be regulated based on schedule of employment, similar to how minimum wages are decided in each state. The nature of work is a key factor for consideration while determining the working hours of any organisation.

2. Allowing Employers to maintain and submit all legal documentation online. As of now, majority states haven’t implemented this. All registers, returns and licenses mandated by various labour welfare legislations should be completely online, whether maintained by the employer or the labour departments.

3. Industry wise exemptions from certain provisions of various Labour Acts. While WFH may make life easier for some employers, there are others who find it more challenging than before. The government should consider the nature of each business while regulating the WFH conditions.

4. The Centre could create a Working Group to work closely with the States to ensure that the State laws are aligned. Furthermore, it is important to avoid duplicate obligations and as much as possible harmonise laws across states.

Today, organizations are implicitly responsible to support and accommodate WFH options. They are expected to come up with flexible work arrangement models that address the specific needs of both employer and employees in a fair, reasonable, and balanced manner. For organizations, it is about managing their business needs effectively; and, evaluating and enhancing their employees’ productivity. For employees, it is about their flexibility and autonomy while carrying out work; and, enhancing their experience &work-life balance.

Collaboration between Government of India and industry to evolve further guidelines for clarity is the need of the hour. WFH policies will have to be agile, inclusive in nature and constantly evolve considering the nature of business, because only free minds deliver better outcomes.

Organizations need to deep dive and factor in all aspects& can also consider taking the help of professional HR consulting services to develop WFH framework. Above all, organizations need to keep an eye on the evolving regulatory landscape to remain compliant.

(The given article is attributed to Subramanyam S, President and CEO of AscentHR and solely created for BW People)


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