The 21-day lockdown triggered by the spread of the coronavirus has entered into the last 10 days and entrepreneurs, the original hustlers, have had to make a 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 Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls.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 of the series, which we have named Virtual Leaders, Pratik Bhakta interviews Sarbvir Singh, the chief executive officer of insurance marketplace - Policybazaar. Singh made a transition to the chief executive role at Policybazaar after spending a very long time as an investor. He spent many years at Capital18, the investment arm of Network18 Group. He was also the managing partner at Waterbridge Capital before this stint. Within just a couple of months of assuming the new role, Singh had to confine himself to remote working.
You can read other editions of Virtual Leaders here.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: What does your average day look like now given your normal routine must have been disrupted by the lockdown?
A: One major thing that this lockdown has done is saved my commute time. My office is on the other side of Delhi NCR and travelling from home used to take a very long time. Now, I get that bit of time extra. Also, because of this remote working schedule, I have started organising video calls with many small teams looking after specific parts of the business. I don’t think this would have been possible under normal circumstances. Normally, I used to get dragged into so many meetings every day, attend to visitors etc. Now my routine has become very scheduled which is a big positive.
Q: How difficult was the transition to working remotely for Policybazaar since you have a massive agent network?
A: We managed to transition from working at offices to working remotely within a week. For us, it was a major challenge since we have an agent network of more than 10,000. How to get them to work remotely. But, thankfully it has happened smoothly. There were some problems initially, but the second day was better than the first, the third better than the second and so on. Even my tech teams worked very hard to help in this transition.
Q: It was just a couple of months after you assumed office that this lockdown started, how did you manage to build rapport with your new colleagues?
A: I have known Yashish (Dahiya, founder of Policybazaar) for almost 30 years now. I agree working with someone is different than knowing someone but till date it has worked out well. I was lucky that I got at least two-three months before making this transition to WFH. I think that helped. Also one good thing is this lockdown has blurred the lines between old and new. Everyone has a set job and they need to get it done. Only in some cases I feel like I might be losing out on something during some conversations since we have not met physically, but otherwise with video calls happening regularly those issues are very few.
Q: Are you trying to develop means of e-socialising with your new colleagues here?
A: I won't use the word socialise as much. We have a lot of discussions during the day, many meetings, challenging ones too. I think we are interacting more now as a team than we used to. For some of us by the time the day ends, it is already pretty late and I think we have had enough of each other (laughs). Honestly, by Friday night, we have had enough of each other and want to go back to spending time with our families.
Q: Now that you are working from home, how much time are you spending with your family? Any specific activity that you undertake regularly with your family members, which you thoroughly enjoy?
A: I have quite a few people at home. My mother stays with us. I have three daughters. My wife is also working. But, the kids have their schools going online. We spend the whole day working in different corners of the house. Also WFH causes you to spend more time at work and blur the difference between weekdays and weekends. But, since the commute time is saved, I get to spend some time every day with my family, which was not the case before. I engage in some cooking or some board games like Monopoly with my daughters.
Also, I want my kids to engage in some sporting activities, and I try to throw around a ball with them in our balcony we cannot go down to the common areas during the lockdown. I also try to help them learn coding, a little bit. This will help them understand technology and not be only passive consumers. It is a different experience to see your children grow up, I have realised I was missing out on that.
Q: What is your fitness routine? Now that outdoor games have stopped are you engaging in some activities indoors?
A: I loved to play squash. I used to play it regularly through the week. Now that it has completely stopped, I have started practicing yoga to keep myself fit and motivated. Interestingly, I used to train with someone before. But then we shifted a year back and my trainer could not travel towards this side of town and I had to discontinue. After the lockdown started, he suddenly connected with me and asked that he was offering classes via Skype and if I would be interested. I agreed and I am enjoying the classes. The 45 minutes in the morning keeps me motivated through the day.
Q: Have you always had a separate workstation at home or did you set that up because of the lockdown? Can you share a few lines on how have you set up your workstation?
A: No, I have never had a workstation at home. But, there was a corner in my bedroom where I have always had a desktop and a working table. I have converted that into my corner where I get my work done through the day.
Q: Now that you have come to the other side from being an investor to a chief executive, which one do you prefer more?
A: While I loved being part of the venture capital ecosystem, I must say that I have always been very minutely associated with business. Even in Network18 where I was part Capital18, I was associated with the business of the group. One difference I can understand is that as a VC, I would wake up everyday and had to think of what to do and plan out everything myself. Here life is more structured, now that you are in an execution role it is more organised I feel.
Q: One thing you want to do first as soon as the lockdown gets over and life returns to normalcy?
A: I want to play squash, I am missing the game badly. It is not that I am a professional player and all that, but I can safely say that, in my age group, I can play pretty well.