As founder of IT firm Mindtree, Ashok Soota proscribed the use of the term `on bench’, preferring to call it `investment time’. He carried this approach to the next company he set up, Happiest Minds, where employees who are not working on a project are either being reskilled, involved in internal projects or are functioning as shadow resources for an existing team.
“There will always be people between projects. It is incumbent on us to use the time to invest in the person and invest in our programmes,“ said Soota, executive chairman of Happiest Minds.
Mindtree, meanwhile, has brought in the concept of an `uberised workforce’, or an internal marketplace where employees can view open projects and apply to work on something outside their vertical.
As manpower costs rise and new project wins slow down, IT companies are increasingly finding it impractical to keep a large number ofpeople idle, or `on bench’.Traditionally used as a pool of employees from which workers could be assigned to new projects, IT companies are now tapping into this resource for internal projects and to generate new ideas.
While the `bench’ size varies from one company to another, the utilisation rate is mostly in the mid-70s, meaning there are at least a few thousand employees who are in-between projects at any given point in time.
Ram C Mohan, head of automation at Mindtree, said, “As the organisational silos grow, you lose visibility of people who may be suitable for a role. This is very effective as employees can pick and choose opportunities, based on what they want. While it is important to optimise costs, as maintaining an extended bench can be financially taxing, it also has a negative effect on people.“
Software services giant Infosys has a `zero bench’ project that allows people in-between projects to work on other assignments, depending on the requirement. Its CEO Vishal Sikka recently likened the Infosys bench to Amazon Web Services and Uber. The company’s HR head, Richard Lobo, said, “Zero bench is a next generation people initiative that aims to maximise the potential of our talent who are in-between projects, i.e. `on bench’. We want to ensure that every employee is actively contri buting towards organisation goals by opening up opportunities for short-duration work assignments. We do this through an open, disintermediated, internal marketplace called “Accelerate“.
This is a gamified platform for people to post modular work based on their project requirements and for anyone on bench in Infosys to signup for the same.“ Over the last two years, over 40,000 work packets were created, and Sikka said 2,000 ideas had already been implemented by the firm.
Similarly, Persistent Systems has done away with the concept of the `bench’ and employees who are not engaged on client projects mandatorily have to undergo training in new tech.
“In 2015, we did away with the concept of the bench -some of our employees are on projects paid for by customers and so aren’t.These people work on short term proof of concepts to solve customer problems or create new things,“ said Mrityunjay Singh, the company’s president. Persistent Systems routinely holds hackathons for this pool of employees toenable them to experiment with new ideas.