The 21-day lockdown triggered by the spread of the coronavirus has now been extended and entrepreneurs, the original hustlers, have had to make plenty of changes to their daily routine to adapt to working from home (WFH). Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls. Not to mention the stress of a looming economic slowdown and pressure from investors.
Moneycontrol looks at how a scrum of business leaders is dealing with these fast-changing times. In this edition, Rakesh Khar spoke to Sumant Sinha - Chairman and Managing Director, ReNew Power.
You can read other editions of Virtual Leaders here.
Q: We are in lockdown times. How has the work from home experience for you as a business leader?
A: It is quite a different experience. Earlier I used travel a lot. The work from home syndrome has opened up a lot of time. That allows you to be more productive. I try for a structured day. This is a regular routine. I do exercise religiously every day (Aerobic or Yoga or mix it up as much as possible).
I have a study at home. I settle down there as per my office routine. My day begins at 9.30 and I wind up generally by 7 to 7.30 pm. I find that the work schedule is far more structured. A lot of time is spent on calls - office and external. We are carrying on our regular business. We actually do more meetings now. You have to schedule interactions. It is more organised. I meet senior teams quite often.
I have done four Town Halls since the lockdown. I imagine I am doing more meetings now - not physical but digital. It is quite important to reach out to the employees. I want to be seen as accessible and transparent. Everybody has issues and anxiety and that is what needs to be addressed in COVID-19 times.
Q: If you have to plot your time spent, what has been the top most priority?
A: First couple of weeks when lockdown started we were trying to understand the magnitude of the challenge at hand and to settle the unprecedented volatility in the environment. The lockdown was an unknown commodity. How would our customers react? How would the government deal with it?
Sorting a lot of things took a fair bit of time. Third week onwards, it was about employee engagement and getting back on our toes to stay firm and positive. Things have, so to say, settled own and there is a rhythm to it. Now time is being spent in communicating constantly with diverse stakeholders – internal and external. This would include government, investors and other stakeholders. We are thinking about what is going to happen and stay involved with our investors and shareholders.
Q: Are you a votary of work from home? How has the organisational output been during the lockdown?
A: I believe if you are effective than there is no issue of working from home. Of course there is value in physical meeting. As long as you are working from home and you are able to deliver, it does not matter. Our output as a company has not suffered during the lockdown. Yes, we don’t run a factory.
We have more than a 100 sites and all of those are running as per normal course. People are staying at those spots. That is something which is carrying on. That is very good. New project construction, however, has come to a halt. We are hopeful that it gets started soon. At these sites the productivity has come down to zero. At office level, thing are normal. I don’t see any lessening of our productivity. I speak to my senior colleagues and they tell me they are working as hard as in pre-COVID-19 times.
Q: With more time at hand, how have you been able to utilise that for family & friends?
A: This has been a great positive sidelight of the lockdown. Yes, this has been a great lesson in time management. I am lucky to be part of several alumni and these host top influencers across the world. Some of my batch mates (IIT) are leaders in their respective zones across geographies and the digital world has enabled us to not only stay connected but also to exchange ideas on business and life. Earlier we had never been able to connect. Now we are able to connect every week and discuss professional and personal matters.
My wife is here. My son studies in a high school in the US. He is here with us. It has been an unexpected bonus. He came to India in early March and his school got postponed. It has been such a joy to have him around. It is terrific to have the family together.
Q: COVID-19 and work from home is the reality today. What are the lessons in leadership?
A: Preparing for the unexpected! As a company we are looking at growth when something like this happens, you have to change your entire focus. Pre-COVID, my pitch was let us get more capacity, raise capital and hire more people.
You have to come to a halt and quickly change the entire approach. It is not easy to adapt to change. It is not easy to do so. I saw the same thing in 2008 when some companies simply just didn’t recognise the need to change.
I am a person who is aggressive to look at growth opportunities. I had to change my orientation. You have to pull everybody back in the organisation. You have been aggressive and now you are pushing them back. There is skepticism. Teams ask, is he really serious? You have to go with your own conviction and you have to change everyone’s mind when you start the process. It takes time. Therefore, having flexibility in your mind to change and adapt quickly is the big learning for me and my company.You can read all of our Virtual Leaders editions here.