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Last Updated : May 08, 2020 11:48 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Virtual Leaders | A part of me was refusing to accept the lockdown would be long: Urban Company co-founder Varun Khaitan

Working from home has led to fewer number of meetings, stronger focus and faster progress, says Khaitan.

The nationwide lockdown triggered by the spread of the novel coronavirus has been extended until May 18 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 Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls.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 today’s edition of Virtual Leaders, M. Sriram spoke to Varun Khaitan, co-founder of Urban Company, a home services marketplace.

You can read other editions of Virtual Leaders here.


virtual leadersEdited 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: My schedule did get disrupted for the first ten days of the lockdown because work-from-home was new, the agenda at work had changed overnight and part of me was refusing to accept this was going to be long. But one Monday I hit a force reset and pretty much got back into my old routine. So I rise early at 6, do some meditation, read the news and am at my work-desk by 8/8:30. I put down the top 3 things to be done, plan the day out around them split in half by the lunch break. In the evening, just like before I work out for an hour and am ready to call it a day. It's not executed as perfectly as I've written here but that's the idea.

Varun khaitan Varun Khaitan.

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: As we are all locked up at homes, many living alone, we’ve realised the need to fill a void in the lives of employees. We’re running an internal project called Josh to keep everyone informed, supported and positive. Some of the initiatives are a support program called 'CountOnMe' to keep those living alone in good humour, a learning series called Urban Academy where internal leaders are taking online sessions and an external speaker series called JoshTalks featuring leaders from all walks of life. One of the guests was Lt Gen Madhuri Kanitkar, the third woman in the Indian Army to be promoted to three-star rank, sharing her stories of dealing with crisis by staying positive.

Q: Have you found some means to e-socialise with your teams outside work, given all of your colleagues might be remote?

A: About 10 days into WFH, I realised we were all feeling grumpy and missing the social side of the office. In the absence of any known protocols here, we came up with a few. I run a Zoom fitness class with a group of colleagues every day which is great fun as we get to bond over an activity. I also regularly set up coffee chats with different teams over video call and even had an online Pictionary session with some managers across teams.

Q: Now that you are working from home, how much time are you spending with family? Any specific activity that you undertake regularly with your family members, which you thoroughly enjoy?

The silver lining of the lockdown situation is I’m spending more time with my wife than ever before. We have our separate WFH setups but have breakfast and lunch together. We’re doing re-runs of our favourite movies in the evenings and especially love our weekend cooking experiments.

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?

I’ve always had a work desk at home which has never been used as much before. But there is a need to mix it up to break the monotony. So we’ve set up multiple working stations - used the dining table, converted the drawer chest and shoe rack into a standing desk by adding a stack of big books etc - and keep rotating every 3-4 days between myself and my wife.

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?

I’ve started meditating longer and more regularly. These days I try to do it for at least 30 minutes daily if not an hour and it's been an absolute bliss. It feels like the easiest super-power we could all unlock and be happier.

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: One of these weekends, all of my close college friends, about 20 of them, got together on a zoom call and it felt like the last 10 years had been a blip. We were back to sharing and joking with each other like old times. We had been in touch in smaller groups but this was one of the rare times everyone had gotten together - it was special.

Q: What is that one major piece of management learning that you have gained during this forced lockdown?
A: With WFH there is a heightened sense of thoughtfulness around meetings - they are very well run and everyone comes in prepared. I’ve realised that this simple change has led to much fewer number of meetings, stronger focus and much faster progress.
First Published on May 8, 2020 11:13 am