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Work from home could become the new normal at Indian startups


Online used cars platform Spinny has taken a decision to allow 80% of its 500-strong workforce to work from home permanently, said a top company executive. This comes weeks after the lockdown has been lifted giving many office-goers the option to head back to their workplaces.

According to its chief executive Niraj Singh, the sales, operations and customer support teams that form 70% of the overall workforce would not be required to be physically present at the office. 

“We took this decision after evaluating the impact of remote work during the lockdown,” said Singh. “The productivity wasn’t compromised during remote work and since our operations were completely shut, we worked on several products, features and designed new campaigns till May 8. The outputs were encouraging,” said Singh.

As the pandemic-induced lockdown forced employees to work from home, startups have realized that productivity, at least in some of the verticals, can be maintained even by not going to the workplace. Last month, education technology startup Unacademy was one of the first ones in the Indian startup ecosystem to have announced that 60% of its workforce would be working from home forever. 

“Work from home has become the new normal and going to the office is going to be an exception,” said a founder at a fintech firm, requesting anonymity. “Distributed offices, remote working, etc, will be the case for most situations.”

Even top tech companies in Silicon Valley made announcements last month about a long-term work from home situation. While Twitter said its entire workforce could work from home forever, Facebook would have 50% of its 4,500-strong employee base to work remotely. Other companies following this route include Shopify and Coinbase. 

Allowing remote working comes with its benefits including the trimming of real estate costs, which could be a blessing to startups that are looking to conserve cash during the pandemic. 

“We used to have three floors, but now we have kept only one floor,” said Spinny’s Singh. “We have also asked the tech and product teams to work from home and come to the office 3-4 times in a month for crucial meetings and discussions.”

While many founders are embracing the work from home culture — both in India and in the U.S., it comes with its set of challenges. Bike sharing startup Bounce has also been mulling over on how to approach remote working in the long run, but is concerned about the employee morale. 

“While the employee morale may look good right now, the same cannot be expected in the long run. Humans are social beings and once they go out, see faces, productivity would rise,” said Vivekananda Hallekere, chief executive of Bounce, which is expected to have the next months of remote work for the entire team and then take a call based on the situation. 

“We are trying to figure out which teams work themselves most of the time and can go for permanent work from home,” added Hallekere.

Remote work also poses other challenges with many employees not having conducive work from home conditions including the lack of work space, crowded homes, among other things.

“Remote work sounds like a good option, but has some hurdles in long term execution,” said an early-stage investor, who is still discussing the situation with his portfolio companies. “Many of the startup employees are youngsters who live with flatmates which could make it difficult for them to work from home permanently. Then there’s also the requirement of a robust home internet and proper laptops — all of which are usually better at the office.”

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