How Quickly Is India Dragging Itself Back To Office?
Nationwide, mobility to places of work was still 27% below pre-pandemic baseline, but trends across districts and states differ.
It’s been six months since work-from-home became the new normal for at least India’s privileged workforce.
Sofas replaced desks. If you were lucky, a beach view replaced the whiteboard. Shorts replaced suits. And (admit it) every now and then an afternoon snooze replaced the coffee break.
Now India, just like the rest of the world, is opening up with governments eager to kick-start economic activity even as Covid-19 infections persist. How quickly are Indian workers returning to their offices? And which cities are seeing a quicker return to normal levels of workplace activity?
Google mobility data, now available across districts, shows divergent trends across different metros and states.
Nationwide, mobility to places of work in India, was still 27% below the pre-Covid baseline between Aug. 19 and Sept. 30, Google community mobility reports show. The reading has improved after hovering at 33-34% below normal between mid-May and July and at 41% below normal between April and mid-May.
Across India’s large metros, movement to the workplace remained significantly lower than the national average. This is because these cities are densely populated, have high instances of infections and limited mobility via public transportation.
Workplace mobility in Chennai, Mumbai and Pune remained at about half the levels seen in normal times. Mobility in Delhi and in Kolkata was relatively higher at 36% and 34% below normal.
To be sure, even in these cities, mobility has improved. Mobility to the workplace had fallen to 80% below normal across all metro cities towards the end of March and in April.
Despite workplace mobility remaining well below normal, India’s biggest cities are still seeing quicker normalisation compared to global peers.
Among the so-called ‘Alpha cities’, New York is still reporting workplace mobility which is 58% below the pre-Covid baseline.
Both New Delhi and Mumbai fare better.
Mobility to workplaces across states in India shows high variation.
Jammu & Kashmir saw mobility to workplaces spike to 141% of the pre-Covid baseline. The state, however, is an outlier since movement has been restricted in the state in the aftermath of Section 370 being revoked last year.
Other states that are showing near normal workplace mobility are Tripura, Bihar, Uttarakhand and Meghalaya. Despite a high case load in Kerala, workplace mobility in the state was close to the national average.
Karnataka, Maharashtra are among the slowest to normalise with mobility to workplaces still about 40% below base levels. Both states continue to see the highest number of active cases in the country.
Google has recently introduced district-level data for India.
Data is available for 632 districts where Google’s data meets quality and privacy thresholds. Across a tenth of these districts, mobility is now flat or positive compared to the baseline.
Districts in the north and east India saw a sharper pick-up in mobility. Almora and Tehri Garhwal, both in Uttarakhand, saw mobility rise by 31% and 17% respectively above the baseline. At the other end of the spectrum, in Gariaband in Chhattisgarh and Bangalore Urban, mobility was lower by 60% and by 53% respectively.