When corporate honchos hunker down to work from home

It’s a few days into the lockdown and Charath Narasimhan like everyone else, is home-bound. But, it’s a work day and the Managing Director of apparel brand Indian Terrain Fashions Ltd, dresses up as he would on a typical day heading out to work. All Indian Terrain stores are shut, but he’s set for some virtual meetings with his 10 business heads to plan for life after the Covid-19 pandemic blows over.

“Like for everyone else, this is a completely new thing for me, being at home. But, it’s important to follow a work-day schedule Monday to Friday or one will lose the sense of time,” he says. His meeting with his leadership team looks at various scenarios post-Covid-19 and for that he needs to review inventory levels, supply chain and manufacturing lines. While one loses out on the dynamics of face-to-face meetings, Narasimhan says with good Net speeds, reviews on WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom are the next best thing.

For Anand Radhakrishnan, Managing Director of mutual fund Franklin Templeton, an inveterate traveller and marathoner, getting stuck at home is alien. Being primarily an IT-driven financial services business, he says it was easier for the mutual fund’s 300-plus employees to work from home. Moreover, all investors have also been told to transact online, whether for redemption or purchase of units of its MFs. “Our work is primarily online. So, using a variety of collaborator tools, I am able to hold virtual meetings with my leadership team of 15 and keep the business running.”

However, the downside of everyone at ‘work from home’, says Radhakrishnan, is that the lack of physical interface hampers a rich exchange of ideas and the ability to do high-quality research work is impacted. Another challenge is that the pace and intensity of work may tend to slacken; so there’s a need to keep all staff motivated and productive.

Hygiene products

CK Ranganathan, Chairman of consumer goods company CavinKare Pvt Ltd, says they saw an imminent lockdown looming and prepared the company’s employees to work from home. He himself, he says, is quite busy at home as he’s on several panels, including being the Deputy Chairman of CII, Southern Region, as well as President, TiE, Chennai. “Apart from virtual meetings with members of CII and TiE, I also have several dialogues with my key team members every day,” he says. While the company HQ is under lockdown and all staff are WFH, the field staff need to be monitored. The company has just launched its brand of sanitisers, Nyle, and the product needs to be distributed fast across regions, he says. “The world is not going to be the same post Covid-19, and we are planning now for a variety of hygiene products in the near future,” says Ranganathan. He has a huge collection of exotic birds, but even if he’s at home, he says, there is not enough time now to spend with them.

Nigel Vaz, Global CEO, Publicis Sapient, a digital business transformation company owned by French advertising and marketing giant Publicis Groupe, has been trying to do virtual town halls with all 20,000 employees ― in batches, of course ― from his apartment in London.

He says he has had to adapt himself to do this. “A couple of years ago, I would have said this is too big a deal, too many people and let me do it from office. Now, we don’t have a choice,” he says.

Dress for the work day

How he is going about it is setting up time to connect with people in smaller groups or individually as well as in large groups to address any queries and concerns they might have. So, people from different regions and time zones are bunched together in the virtual chat. As he says, more than ever now is the need to stay connected and keep communication channels open.

Does he dress up like he does when going to work and maintain the same schedules? “I try to keep my day organised, planning my schedule based on which of our teams I am working with. I get up, try and spend some time with the family, get dressed ― different from lounge wear as I am on Zoom video calls most of the day, but certainly more casually than if I was in office,” he responds.

“As a company, we’re leveraging tools we have used in parts of our business everywhere beyond MS teams, Zoom and Skype to help teams collaborate, such as, Mural ― a tool to share perspectives with a digital whiteboard, Loom ― to showcase demos, and Adobe XD ― a developer’s tool,” he adds.

Catching up on reading

Corporate honchos also say that it’s a good time to catch up on reading. Indian Terrain’s Narasimhan is re-reading, The Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “When I read it the first time, it all seemed so mythical and indeed improbable, but we are today in such a situation,” he says, with a laugh. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, is next on his list.

Franklin’s Radhakrishnan has a bookshelf crammed with books on the arcane art of investing to Dilbert and author Gurcharan Das. He’s going to pick up one of the books and get started soon, he says.

Shekar Viswanathan, Vice-Chairman of Toyota Kirloskar too, is catching up with some reading. After having listened to a podcast featuring ‘medical detective’ Michael T Osterholm, who predicted the spread of coronavirus across the world, Viswanathan bought his book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs. He plans to read some others as well, including a book by former Saudi Arabian oil minister Yamani Sheikh Ahmed Zaki, OPEC at Crossroads. “I am also spending some quality time with my son and daughter who are here for a visit,” says Viswanathan, who is quite busy with some hectic office work too.

Clearly, in a time of lockdown, CEOs are motivating themselves to keep their businesses going, while finding the mental space for reading and some self-introspection.

Published on March 27, 2020

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