Thiruvananthapuram: With COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to change their lifestyle in a big way across the world, the work scenario in Kerala is also witnessing a sea change. The occasional work-from-home (WFH) option for information technology (IT) employees has now become the status quo in most IT hubs.
The mental and physical repercussions of such a set-up is, however, likely to take a toll on the long-term productivity of the IT sector. Kerala government's IT parks have created a unique plan to work around this situation.
It has suggested creation of small work-sharing facilities in different regions across Kerala to facilitate professionals to 'Work Near Home' (WNH).
These 5,000 square feet work-sharing-facilities are office spaces equipped with uninterrupted WiFi, power supply, video conferencing, ergonomic seating and refreshment spaces.
The project is expected to be rolled out by October 2020 in 100 towns across Kerala in the first phase and the facility can be availed by any firm requiring a standardised office space.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan highlighted that 'Work Near Home' facilities can play a key role in solving problems faced by employees opting for work-from-home options.
“Net connectivity, electricity disruption and unavailability of laptops at employees' homes affect the productivity of firms. The work-near-home facility established by the government in collaboration with Kerala IT Parks can help in resolving this issue,” the chief minister said in his customary sunset briefing on Thursday.
These new workspaces will enable professionals to work from their home town while enjoying a good work atmosphere.
“Though the work-from-home facilities served well in the initial days of lockdown, employee productivity levels suffered a decline eventually,” Chief Executive Officer of Kerala IT Parks Sasi PM told Onmanorama.
“While majority of women employees complained about the psychological pressure of handling both household and office work, a loss in employee morale has been reported across firms,” he added.
Besides addressing demand side of the job market, 'Work-near-home' project effectively uses the supply side of the economy, Sasi says.
Amid the economic downturn and COVID-19 pandemic, many of the expats returning from abroad are looking for avenues to invest.
“This project will enable the expats, banks and other interested parties to channelise their funds to a productive avenue and capitalise from the low real estate prices in Kerala,” he said.
Exit Silicon Valley model
The post-COVID new world order calls for a paradigm shift from 'Silicon Valley' type of work culture to a more decentralised system that offers the flexibility of working from different quarters.
A franchise model will be adopted for Kerala's prospective work-sharing centre. While the blueprint for the work space and the quality standards will be set by Kerala IT Parks, the investment for the same will be made by interested private parties, Sasi says.
Construction of these spaces will cost Rs 2,000 per square feet approximately. The blueprint and the interior design of the work spaces will be provided by Institute of Indian Interior Designers.
“Kerala IT Parks will handle the marketing aspect and offer services in other aspects such as surveillance and company formation,” he added.
While large IT hubs offer 'economies of scale' from a larger level of production and other network effects, a decentralised IT sector virtually connected to a common centre also offers multiple cost advantages.
Such a facility will help save travel and keep employees away from crowded metros in the post-COVID world. The provision to use the office space anywhere in Kerala will also prove the much needed flexibility firms require.
The option to share these micro-office spaces on a pay per use model is also an added advantage.
The low infrastructural costs in smaller towns and lower chances of attrition will also benefit firms.
The monthly rent per seat at these centres will be roughly be Rs 6,000 subject to variations, the Kerala IT Parks CEO says.
Spreading the risk
Smaller workspaces also spread the risk of COVID-19 spread. Shutting down of Google office in Bengaluru after COVID-19 detection in an employee is a case in point of how larger offices pose higher risk.
Technopark also boasts of Kerala's advantages to interested parties – a high Public Affairs Index with good health facilities, comparatively less pollution, abundant resources, tourist getaways for weekends and above par education.
The tertiary sector contributes 62.1 per cent to the Gross Value Added of the state and employs 51.9 per cent of the total labour force. Ensuring the high productivity levels in the sector is therefore, vital to the health of Kerala's economy.
With the right amount of investment and interest, this new work model could offer an alternative to Keralites looking to settle back home.