As the coronavirus pandemic pushes India into lockdown, the call centers and IT services firms that function as the world’s back office are struggling to piece together work-from-home solutions and other business-continuity plans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday ordered 1.3 billion Indians to stay at home for 21 days to stem the spread of SARS-CoV-2, following earlier lockdown orders in many Indian cities and states. As of Tuesday, India had reported over 500 cases of the virus and nine deaths.
Many of the companies that provide business services such as call centers, information technology services, and business process automation were not prepared for work-for-home arrangements, according to interviews with more than a dozen employees of several companies.
After a state government order, JPMorgan on Sunday asked its Bengaluru staff to “stay at home until further notice,” according to a message to employees seen by Source.
In some cases, companies must seek client permission before allowing employees to work on sensitive projects outside the office, a senior human resources executive at a top Indian IT firm said of working remotely.
Indian software services firms, led by Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys, gained prominence by giving Western clients low-cost solutions to routine computer problems. Over time, they assumed a major role at many global companies.
Three employees of midsize IT services firm Mphasis in the western Indian city of Pune said they were all being asked to come to the office until last Friday, even as some expressed concerns about working in close proximity with roughly 90 other people.
An employee of French teleservices provider Teleperformance on the outskirts of Delhi said his company had been reluctant to let staff work from home. But he said employees were finally told Sunday the company would begin installing corporate desktop computers at their homes after a wider lockdown in several cities.
JPMorgan and Teleperformance did not respond to requests for comment.
Qualcomm Inc, the world’s biggest supplier of “modem” chips that connect mobile phones and other devices to wireless data networks, said about 90% of its workforce in India was able to log in to work-from-home since the lockdown started in the country.
India’s home ministry, in guidelines issued on Tuesday, advised states to exempt essential IT and IT-enabled services from the national lockdown. NASSCOM, the lobbying group, said several states had listed IT and e-commerce among essential services that are exempt.