VCs on how to keep employees working from home motivated during coronavirus lockdown
Remote working environment has thrown fresh challenges to startups, and founders need to have a very proactive approach to retain the vibrancy of the organisation.
Coronavirus has brought to fore a critical issue of how organisations need to manage their most critical asset – people or employees. This requires founders to be sensitive at the same time firm to keep the entire organisation up and running in these trying times.
To help startups navigate through this worst crisis, leading venture capitalists (VCs) have come together with a set a guidelines to address the various challenges faced by human resources under the topic: ‘Best practices for founders in the wake of Covid-19’.
The VCs which have provided the guidelines include Accel, Bessemer Venture Partners, Chiratae Ventures, Kalaari Capital, Lightspeed, Matrix Partners India, Nexus Venture Partners, Omidyar Network India, SAIF Partners, and Sequoia Capital India.
Following below are some the guidelines.
These are trying times for all of us, and it’s important that we stay connected with our teams. Here are a few areas we should be proactive about.
Engagement: According to the VCs, in these times, communication via zoom and / or calls, and engagement with employees takes a whole new meaning. These modes of communication demand strong listening skills, and founders are making all efforts to stay connected and upbeat in this period of isolation.
Wellness: This kind of isolation is unprecedented, and it can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional well-being. For this, employee assistance programmes are getting more traffic.
An aspect of wellness that shouldn’t be ignored is the impact of learning. Research shows that people feel more productive when learning new things. Many edtech companies are offering their services at discount, or for free, at these times. Sharing these with team members is also a good way to enable them to divert their minds into something that is useful and of interest.
Staffing considerations: This is a critical area for all the founders as people are the critical assets for any organisation. The VCs have suggested people costs are to be undertaken only after all the other costs are reviewed and reduced, which also requires seeking legal advice. The key point here being that the entire process has to be transparent.
If the situation reaches a point where people costs may become unavoidable, there are other measures to think about before the dreaded retrenchment.
Pause hiring: Some companies opt to pause hiring, and existing team members agree to take more responsibility.
Re-alignment of roles: Identify roles that may have become less relevant at this time, and agree with and realign those employees to other roles.
Change in the appraisal system: Push out the appraisal cycle and defer bonuses - or convert them to ESOPs.
Pay deferrals: Some companies have been successful in finding support for voluntary deferment of pay for their senior management.
Furlough: Another strategy that may work is to identify roles that are currently not productive or required and send those team members on leave with adjusted compensation.
Alternate working days: Another option is to agree with employees that they work on every alternate day with a proportionate adjustment in their compensation for a stipulated period of time.
Pay reduction: If this option is being considered, it is advisable to start at the top when it comes to reductions. Also, it is best done as a voluntary exercise.
Work from home
Today, work from home (WFH) has become the de-facto standard for any organisation as they look to keep the engine running even though all employees are not present in a single location. But this also requires that founders should be very clear about the expectations from their team.
Founders need to set the expectations very well, which is as similar to what would happen in an offline situation that is work at office.
Managing meetings while working remotely: This would require all members to be aligned on the agenda. Video calls are encouraged as it results in improved attention.
Keeping team engagement levels high: In the time of coronavirus, organisations need to function similar to what would have happened during regular office hours like getting updates, meeting expectations, virtual coffee meetings, etc.
What NOT to DO while managing your team remotely: It is important that organisations do not expect availability on demand, rather expect accountability. Do not expect 24X7 availability, don’t keep planning at the last minute, and do not assume.
Health and sanitisation
During this humanitarian crisis, it is critical for companies to focus on the health and safety of their employees.
Field Force: It is important for companies to make provisions for appropriate safety gear for all field force employees. Training and awareness on hygiene, telemedicine, and insurance facilities need to be explored for the field force.
Mental health of employees working from home: Given that the lockdown and the impending work from home is going to be a long haul of at-least three weeks, startups need to ensure that you have counsellors to help employees who may have troubles in dealing with the situation.
It would also require organisations to be considerate in the short term as team members who have families at home may have trouble paying attention to work.
In such times, over-communication is not a bad idea. Founders should maintain the engagement with the full team through virtual town halls. This would also require mapping of senior resources to a group of people.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)
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