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Virtual Leaders: Times like these have no precedent and no playbook, say SUGAR Cosmetics co-founders

The entrepreneur couple speaks about leadership during lockdown, two parents working with two kids at home and adapting to the new normal.

May 20, 2020 / 05:40 PM IST

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 Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls.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 husband-and-wife duo Kaushik Mukherjee and Vineeta Singh, cofounders of makeup brand SUGAR Cosmetics. The entrepreneur couple speaks about leadership during lockdown, two parents working with two kids at home and adapting to the new normal. 

virtual leadersYou can read other editions of Virtual Leaders here.

Q. What does your average day look like now, given the normal routine has been disrupted by the lockdown?

Kaushik Mukherjee: Our average day looks similar to a day spent in office. Vineeta and I start our day early with a cup of coffee and Zoom calls with senior team members before our kids wake up. We also try to use this quiet time to discuss new ways to adapt business to the current situation, think through any bottlenecks and review the sales and operations data from the previous day. Rest of the day goes into responding to emails, reading up interesting reports about the impact on business and brainstorming with various teams on Zoom. There are of course a lot of interruptions because we have young kids and we have to take turns to feed them, change them, read to them and sometimes just keep them out of the study.


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Vineeta Singh: Another daily fixture of our routine is the Golden Hour Session we have at 6 PM on Zoom before we wrap up work for the day. This is a daily training involving the whole company where everyone gets to learn something new and more importantly, we get to see each other’s faces and just check in on one another. Working from home is, of course, quite hard with kids. The working days go so fast that our chores pile up for the weekends. Luckily, Kaushik and I split the chores and kids’ responsibility so that each of us is able to take out a few hours every day to do some focused work at a desk.

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?

Kaushik Mukherjee:  Being physically away from the team is a bit challenging. We both make sure that we’re available for the team and have daily communication on Zoom with our direct reportees and often with the next layer too. The teams use Zoom, Slack and Basecamp aggressively to keep each other updated about their projects. We also have more frequent Townhalls on Zoom that give us the opportunity to share the business impact, short-term, long-term plans and all our experiments with the whole company. Our retail team has managed to digitally train and engage with our 1000+ beauty advisors and also leverage their skills to create lakhs of hours of product-related content.

Vineeta Singh: Now that the warehouse hast started operating at partial capacity, and we’ve reopened a few stores in green and orange zones, the greatest motivation for the whole team is to see photos of our warehouse colleagues and our beauty advisors in masks and gloves serving customers at the warehouse and in the remotest parts of the country like Kakinada, Aizawl, Kochi, Haldwani, Tinsukhia, etc.

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

Kaushik Mukherjee: Yes, certainly! On a regular workday at office, we stop by at a teammates' desk or just holler across to a colleague in another team to have a quick 5-minute discussion. I continue to have all such quick 5-minute chats on Zoom, or our company’s official Slack account via direct messages or groups. It keeps me energised, productive and feels great to chat with a colleague who I would have definitely bumped into at work.

Vineeta Singh: The team often gets together on Zoom to also play dumb charades, poker or Ludo and these sessions are full of the usual leg-pulling and also lamenting a bit about the lockdown and all the household chores!

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

Vineeta Singh: We both love the fact that we are getting so much more time with our kids. We both try to have a daily gadget-free hour with them. I use the time to read to them or just play hide and seek, whereas Kaushik literally puts his phone in Zen mode for 60 minutes and plays indoor football/ cricket.

Q. Have you always had a separate work station at home or did you set that up because of the lockdown? Can you share with us how have you set it up?

Vineeta Singh: We did clear out the study to create a workspace with a desk and a chair. More than the desk, we end up needing that locked door to prevent kids from yelling all over our Zoom calls. There are times when we have to both be on calls simultaneously. In those cases, Kaushik often sets up a workstation in the balcony, so that we don’t end up disturbing each other.

Q. Was there a hobby that you had given up because of work pressure that you have been able to resume now over the last two weeks?

Vineeta Singh: Being an ultramarathoner, my running routine was something I have missed the past few years. Although I still don’t step out for runs, I make it a point to get myself a cardio/ strength training workout every day. I have not missed it even for a day and I absolutely love the “me time”! I also try to listen to podcasts/ audiobooks while doing chores and that makes me feel less guilty about not being able to take time out to read books.

Kaushik Mukherjee: I have a habit of saving interesting long-format articles for reading later but had amassed quite an embarrassing backlog over the last year. I have been diligently clearing that out. That apart, weekends have suddenly made time for online games like Poker or Scrabble with friends.

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?

Kaushik Mukherjee: Quite a few – especially those abroad. The only difference is we don’t ask each other standard questions like “So when are you travelling to the US/India next?”

Q. What is that one major piece of management learning that you have gained during this forced lockdown?

Vineeta Singh: During this lockdown as I observe all our team leaders, I realise that those who invested in setting up objective metrics for tracking team performance are a lot less stressed about team productivity and goals. What gets measured gets done and as remote work seems to become a probable future for most organisations, I feel that successful managers will be those who focus more on clearly defined and measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) than on the effort put in.

Kaushik Mukherjee: The biggest learning for me has been to understand that times like these that have no precedent and no playbook. Sometimes the only way to come out of the tunnel is to go through the full length of the darkness of the tunnel. It is important to keep oneself motivated and charged because sometimes – onwards is the only way.
M. Sriram
first published: May 20, 2020 02:39 pm

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