[Matrix Moments] What changes startups need to make at the workplace if you choose to return to the office

In this week’s Matrix Moments, Avnish Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director, Matrix Partners India, talks about returning to the office, and the changes startups need to make to normalise that.
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While our daily lives are slowly returning to normal, and people have started travelling to their offices, it is still best to consider internal rules and norms before stepping outside to work. In a discussion with Rajinder Balaraman, Director, Matrix Partners India, Avnish Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director, Matrix Partners, spoke about what startups need to keep in mind when choosing to re-open their offices.

“It is great to be back, but I will give a caveat that I’m not advocating people open the office, it is a very personal decision, both individually and as well as for the company. I think we are being safe when we are socially distanced, so I can take my mask off. Our inspiration wall also is fully masked, but we put in a bunch of protocols,” says Avnish. 

Explaining his personal theory behind adhering to the lockdown, Avnish says it is primarily meant to enforce social distancing. “I think in a country like ours, it enforces social distancing and a lot of this burned through in April and May. Personally, my view is, people are safer coming to the office in a very hygienic environment. We have much more room in the offices but again, it’s a very personal decision,” says Avnish. 

Setting up a safe space

Adding to this, Rajinder said the credit generally goes to the administrative team. “I think it's pretty straight forward now but back when we did it, we had to learn things first principle and learn from a few startups.” 

The first thing is to do COVID-19 tests regularly, especially for those who are the most vulnerable and those people who are using public commutes. 

“Fortunately, Mumbai is still not open but there are people who are still very vulnerable. I think knowing that people have antibodies or that they have COVID-19 is actually better for them, their families, and for everyone they work with. This is so that you can take the right safety precautions and then at work, put a mask, maintain social distancing, and work in cabins wherever you can so that you are in your own isolated space. If you don’t have an isolated space, space out and have people come in such a manner that they can maintain those distancing norms,” says Rajinder.

How integrated are the teams?

Rajinder adds that many startups are opening their offices.“I think getting founders together to compare notes is probably the best thing to do. The pattern I have seen is the companies – the “older companies” which are around two to three years old, and where the teams were already integrated and have worked very well working from home –some of them don’t intend to open,” Avnish says. 

“I think what we have also observed is the reverse. The newer companies – actually, I know some of our portfolio companies opened in June because they felt that they didn’t have the rhythm and cadence going right. If you ask me, one of the triggers for us was that we had a new class join us at the end of June,” he adds. 

Avnish explains that his 360-degree reviews at the office have been that people are glad the offices are open, but have flagged that sitting at home affects their mental health. 

“The space changes the mindset. So, at least for me, it’s been different but some of our offices are still not working all day. It is a very personal decision and I think it is also something we are not pushing. When people come in, they have realise from the second day onward that they want to come all five days,” adds Avnish.

Listen to the podcast here.

Edited by Kanishk Singh

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