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 Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls.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, Moneycontrol’s M. Sriram speaks to Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder, Wakefit.
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 21-day lockdown?
A: The lockdown has certainly turned everybody’s routine upside down. However, I make sure that I maintain a disciplined schedule while working from home, albeit a different one than usual. I believe that if we give in to the everyday temptations or distractions, it is not possible to conduct productive work. Hence, I switch my work mode on by dressing and preparing exactly how I would on a normal work day. The typical day starts off with video calls with various teams, which go on until late evening. Through the day, I make it a point to have a half hour lunch break at 1:30 pm and another half hour coffee break at 4:30 pm, to get away from the screen for a while. After the end of the work day, which often goes on till 8 pm, I meditate, exercise or take a walk to get my daily dose of physical activity. I have also expanded my night time reading habit to close to 90 minutes, now that I save all the commute time.
Q: How do you manage your office teams now? How are you keeping your staff motivated?Could you share some unique experiences that you have had during these 10 days of the lockdown while dealing with your teams/colleagues or investors?
A: Prof. Scott Galloway (NYU Stern School of Business) had remarked a few months back that demand for companies like Zoom is likely to shoot up, as social distancing becomes the norm. He could not have been more on point. At Wakefit, the day starts with video calls for most of the workforce and that applies to Ankit (co-founder) and me as well. I strongly feel that face time is absolutely essential to keep motivation levels up. I connect with each department on a daily or weekly basis. This also helps me understand what our teammates are going through and enables me to address any doubts or concerns that may arise. Of course, it also helps in maintaining discipline and diligence.
Another thing we have realized is that during this time, job security and assurance from the management can make a huge difference is keeping the workforce motivated. We regularly conduct virtual all-hands meetings, where we transparently answer questions and doubts – it is a totally safe space, where no question is too silly. For example, in the last all-hands, we announced that the staff and labour will be paid full salaries for March and April despite the lockdown. Additionally, we have covered our employee base under a COVID-19 focused insurance policy up to Rs 5 Lakhs in addition to our group medical policy that was in force. We’ve also tied up with a third party service to provide free and unlimited doctor consultations via phone to all our employees, We believe employees are our biggest strength and these measures ensure that we keep motivation levels up across all departments.
Q: Have you found some means to e-socialise with your teams outside work, given all of your colleagues might be remote?
A: Yes absolutely. We organize regular team lunches over video calls, such that everyone can catch up with each and even look out for each other. The HR department has also started fun challenges on our internal communication software, around creativity, health and fitness to ensure people maintain an active lifestyle during this lockdown period. Our employees also socialize with each other through interesting online puzzles and games to unwind with colleagues.
Q: Now that you are working from home, how much time are you spending with family/kids if any? What home activities are you enjoying?
A: They say that one can be mindful even while doing the mundane daily activities, such as doing the dishes or boiling water for a cup of coffee. One gets ample opportunity to do all of this in these days where our routines have been completely upended. Keeping my space clean and meditating every day started off as a way to maintain discipline, but I now look forward to these activities daily as they are a welcome break. Further, once I get on to my nightly reading time, I don’t look at the phone or the laptop because they emit blue light, which messes with our body’s production of melatonin. This damages our sleep cycle.
Q: Have you always had a separate workstation at home or did you set that up because of the lockdown? Can you share with us how have you set it up?
A: During normal times, I used to try and complete a large part of my work at the office. Any further urgent or important work that I had to do after returning home usually would be done on my smartphone. But now, given the long hours spent working from home, I have set up a dedicated space for the same. Further, being a sleep solutions company, I know the research behind using the mattress only to sleep – it builds associations with the subconscious mind on what the space is supposed to evoke. So I avoid all work from the bed.
Q: Was there a hobby that you had given up because of work pressure but you have been able to resume now over the last two weeks?
A: It wasn’t a hobby as much as another way of creative expression. I used to write and sketch a long time back. While I have managed to restart writing regularly in the past few months, I am also trying to make time for sketching. It is just another outlet for expressing the creative urge. I also read somewhere that in such times, when everything in life seems to have been taken out of your control, the best way to build a perception of control is to create new things rather than just be a passive consumer of videos and text and music. That made sense to me.
Q: Did you manage to catch up with any old friend or a relative in this time period, someone who has not been in touch with you for a long time?
A: Yes! A few of my graduation and post-graduation friends who had drifted apart as they moved to different countries all got back in touch again. In fact, it has become a weekly routine to have a one-hour video call with people dialing in from different countries to reconnect. It is a time to reminisce over the fun times and pranks, and also to be there for each other.
Q: What is that one major piece of management learning that you have gained during this forced lockdown?
A: The one thing all of us have come to realize during the lockdown is the value of practising good business fundamentals. It allows companies to retain the most precious asset during difficult times: the human capital of the organization. Revenues and profits are permanent, while valuations are temporary. So the more the founders are in control of the destiny of the company, the more the decisions are made for the right reasons.