Ayush Virmani feels at peace while working from his parents’ house, in Dehradun. This is the most satisfied he’s been with his worklife since he started his career, as a marketing professional. Before the pandemic-induced lockdown forced him to move to his hometown and become a remote worker for a multinational, he used to live in Delhi. “Those three years in Delhi were tough. Life was so fast. Plus it was lonely,” says the 26-year-old. “I am an introvert. So, remote work has really been a blessing. I have a better life.” What boosts Virmani’s confidence is that in the current talent war, geography is no longer a limitation. “The future seems pretty bright to me as I continue to work from here.”
Living in a small town no longer means having to compromise on salary or career progression. A Randstad salary trends report, published earlier this year, listed Chandigarh as the tier-2 city in which junior and mid-level corporate employees earned the most. While the junior level salary averaged ₹5.67 lakh per annum (more than the national average of ₹5.52 lakh offered in tier-I cities), Bhubaneswar topped for senior level hires, offering an average compensation of ₹31.15 lakh per annum.
“There has been 20-25% increase in hiring in tier-II and tier-III cities during the pandemic, as companies seek to expand their footprint to where the talent has moved,” says Sanjay Shetty, director (professional search and selection and strategic accounts), Randstad India. Some of the cities that have become key talent hubs include Chandigarh, Vadodara, Indore, Coimbatore, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Jaipur and Bhopal. This trend is primarily led by banking and finance industry, followed by IT.
Like Virmani, Radhika Kohli, always thought she would move to a bigger city for work. The Bareilly resident, 23, followed the same path as most youngsters do when they plan their career—study in a university in a big city (Delhi, in her case) and find a job there so they don’t have to return to the slow-paced life. She achieved all of that—passed college in 2020 and got a nice job at the audit firm Grant Thornton Bharat. Then pandemic happened, and she had to return to Bareilly and work from home. She’s loving it. “I didn’t think I would ever get to stay with my parents and work from home,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Before covid, youngsters from small cities and towns were resigned to the fate of moving out of their hometowns owing to lack of job opportunities. The promise of the big city life and the comforts it offered certainly seemed attractive. But in the past two years, with companies allowing flexible working options, along with competitive salaries, working professionals are realising the importance of living the slow-paced life. It’s encouraging them to not leave their homes.
Seema Rekha, an organisational behavioural expert and managing director of management consultancy Antarmanh, explains that unlike the workforce of previous generations, post-millennials, or those in their 20s, are not working for survival. They want to focus more on the quality of life, she says. “When covid hit, the productivity of people working remotely was high. But now, most roles demand team collaboration, so if people continue to work remotely it will impact the organisational culture,” she adds. “One can see disparity seeping in with people who are flexible to come to work gaining an edge over those who continue work remotely.”
A drawback often raised when it comes to remote work is the absence of face-to-face meetings. Of course, they are more impactful to create a collaborative team compared to Zoom calls. To address the issue, companies that follow the hybrid model have come up with alternatives.
A month after Saurabh Chandravanshi, 23, remotely joined Bengaluru-based HackerEarth as a front-end developer from Chhattisgarh’s Hathmudi, the firm invited him to the headquarters for four days “to get a feel of the place” in May and meet his team.
Raj Changmai, 25, who joined Repos Energy in late 2020 and works from Guwahati, visits the head office in Pune once a quarter. While both Chandravanshi and Changmai speak with their colleagues virtually every day, meeting them in person helps build a stronger team, they say.
“We have been managing with Slack. And some colleagues who were onboarded virtually have become close friends now,” says Afsa Shah, 26, who joined Bengaluru-based Yellow.ai in 2019. Shah is currently working from her home in Kashmir.
Life beyond work
For many freshers and first-job holders, returning home to live with their parents in familiar surroundings offers them a sense of security and comfort, without them feeling their personal space is being compromised. The flexible work hours help as well. For instance, Shah could take care of her grandfather, who was unwell few months ago, by adjusting her work time. Changmai is relieved to be home to help manage his father’s declining health. For those with young children, living with parents means having a support system.
Sunil Kumar Tripathi, 33, who works with Delhi-based tech company To The New and lives in Balagir, Odisha. He gets to spend time with his young son, parents, and time to catch up with childhood friends every evening. “In Delhi, I would often think whether it was worth missing out on special family occasions for our quest to earn money. I yearned to be close to my family. So, work from home has been a blessing,” says Tripathi, an engineer.
While most agree that options for socialising or entertainment are comparatively limited in smaller cities, they don’t mind. Plus, many restaurant chains, brands and shopping centres are expanding in tier-II and tier-III cities, to tap more consumers with disposable income.
“We have restaurants here which have the same prices as those in Delhi. Supermarkets have expanded their product range and are keeping international brands and organic products, which I didn’t see earlier. So, I am not missing Delhi,” says Bareilly’s Kohli. “But yes, the experience cannot be compared.” Bareilly has zero night life, no fine dining options, and unless one has life beyond work, weekends can hit you hard, she says.
Of course, sometimes, when Changmai feels like he’s missing the big city life, he reminds himself that he’s in a way contributing “to his hometown and the region’s growth”.