One reason for resistance to moonlighting is that WFH calls into question the necessity for the thick layers of middle and senior management which run most businesses, argues Devangshu Datta.
Wipro terminating 300 employees for moonlighting has sparked off a debate that's likely to have legs.
Last month, Swiggy took the diametrically opposite step when it formally allowed full-time employees to take up additional work.
Swiggy and Wipro are, of course, very different companies.
It is relatively easy for Swiggy to define conflicts of interest (CoI) and productivity.
Hence, Swiggy can adopt a pragmatic attitude and accept moonlighting so long as there's no loss of productivity and no CoI.
Wipro would have thought through the contractual nitty-gritty, so let's not get into that.
This is more about industry (not just the tech sector, but industry as a whole) adjusting to the paradigms of WFH (work from home) and the associated gig economy.
Some companies will adapt easily; others will resist it tooth and nail for as long as possible.
Anybody with IT industry contacts is aware other IT firms are also trying to end WFH and that this is largely due to moonlighting.
Infosys and IBM have issued advisories unequivocally banning moonlighting, for example.
At the same time, Tech Mahindra Chief Executive officer C P Gurnani has said that, assuming no CoI and no loss of productivity, he has no objections to employees doing gig work.
During the lockdowns, armies of WFH techies started to profitably freelance, using the time they saved by not commuting (and possibly the time saved by not bathing, shaving, or dressing up).
The financials of hundreds of listed 'IT companies' makes it obvious that there was no loss of productivity, though millions of techies stopped coming into offices, and took on side jobs.
The gig economy was already commonplace prior to the pandemic and it is now totally mainstream.
Lockdowns led to an explosion in the number and quality of tools enabling WFH.
It also led to acceptance across the corporate universe that WFH was going to be the only way to keep things ticking over.
Web sites offering gig work started generating huge traffic.
Speaking personally, I've been a WFH advocate for over 20 years, and I believe that in many industries, productivity actually increases if you don't have to clock into an office with all its protocols.
I can think of multiple highly successful businesses, which run on WFH, and hire a conference room once in a while when people actually want, or need, to meet.
Productivity is not the real issue here.
We have proof that productivity is unaffected in many industries using remote workers.
There are other concerns, which are used to make arguments against the wholesale adoption of WFH and gig work.
One is CoI. Techies tend to specialise and it's likely a techie who is working, let's say, on cloud-based migration projects for a firm, will also freelance in the same space.
A corollary to this is the possible leak of intellectual property (IP) or company strategies.
Erecting Chinese walls to prevent CoI and IP leaks is not easy. Firms need to trust remote employees more and they may be unwilling to do this.
Another reason for resistance to moonlighting is that WFH calls into question the necessity for the thick layers of middle and senior management which run most businesses.
Middle/senior management can look busy and useful giving instructions to people in an office, regardless of whether such direction is needed. In a WFH plus moonlighting scenario, this isn't possible.
This is an unstated but real reason for resistance. But Generation Z grew up during the pandemic.
Most of that cohort will earn their first compensations on gigs.
If you don't allow gig work, younger employees will quit. Or you will have to pay more.
Mass exits from poorly paid service industries in the First World and the high churn in IT are leading indicators of this attitude shift.
The writing is on the wall, but many businesses will take a while to recognise that the transition to WFH and gig work is permanent across the service sector.
This is also starting to have a negative impact on commercial real estate since it has reduced demand.
In other areas such as commuting patterns, the impact will be increasingly obvious.
It will create compensating demand and employment in other areas but those will also be gig-driven, most likely!
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com