[Women of the Pandemic] Operating in ‘bunker mode’ - what Upasna Dash learnt in the year of the pandemic

In HerStory’s Women of the Pandemic series women share their experiences and learnings from this crisis in their own words. Here's Upasna Dash, Founder & CEO, Jajabor Brand Consultancy and Co-Founder, Indiarath’s account.
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There’s a famous saying, ‘Tell God your plans to make him laugh”. Like many of you, I also created these amazing ‘Vision 2020’ decks, but absolutely nothing could prepare me or anyone around me for what 2020 actually had in store. As we navigate through unprecedented time, the pandemic has changed not just the course of business but human perspective and behaviour as a whole. True to being an entrepreneur, it’s inherent for us to always choose ‘fight vs flee’ in challenging situations and that’s what’s led to most of us almost being in ‘bunker mode’, trying our best to safeguard ourselves with thoughtful decision making, waiting for the ‘storm’ to pass so we can all re-emerge to steer a new reality.

Dealing with new normal

This was an evolution for all of us going through different spheres of emotions. It started with uncertainty, confusion, fear but slowly led to resilience, adaptability and courage. As a founder, my primary focus was to enable my team to smoothly transition to this new normal as well. When the lockdown happened we were conscious that it wasn’t ‘working from home’, it was ‘working from a pandemic’.

Acknowledging this upfront helped us create seamless processes, where we gave as much importance to mental health as physical health. This continues to be more important to me and we hope to scale this beyond the pandemic. It’s important to note that even when the pandemic ends we will not be the same people we were beyond it. We need to embrace that. The ‘new normal’- will possibly never be ‘normal again. New consumer behaviours that got accelerated will remain, new business models that began will scale and we would need to find a way to adapt to it.

How I juggled work and family

I wouldn’t call this juggling as much as balancing. The pandemic gave us an unique opportunity to spend time at home with loved ones which in my case turned out to be an incredible blessing. It made me realise that had it not been for the lockdown I wouldn’t have ever made the time to spend time with them at a stretch. The interesting thing was that like many of us, I managed to balance work along with family realising that one does not need to cannibalise the other. This led to some incredible systems. Some hacks that worked for me were 1) dedicated family times, dedicated work times 2) Being unplugged when being with family 3) Involving family in a mutual chore/activity 4) Creating a dedicated space for work. Most importantly if things weren’t going as per plan cutting myself some serious slack! It was okay to be doing a con-call while cooking!

My key takeaways from the pandemic

I discovered just showing up consistently is half the battle won. If you have an extremely challenging situation that you possibly don’t know how to solve, just showing up to it would increase your chances of winning. Not showing up equals to zero chances of winning.

Everything is cyclic! We may be going through a very difficult period but it is bound to end, followed by a period of growth and joy followed again by a possibly difficult period. This is the law of nature and we need to create systems that not just survive but thrive with this.

People are the most valuable capital - I learnt that absolutely anything can be re-built, survived and won if you have the right people to do it. As a business, if there’s anything you need to invest in, it’s high-quality people. Similarly, the strength that your peers, the family can provide is priceless. So spend your energy in cultivating these high-value relationships.

My personal anecdotes/experiences

This pandemic has given me some incredible experiences. The day news started trickling in, I was tackling about 30-40 calls a day. People representing different businesses trying to understand how to optimise this situation by using communications internally/externally.

Fifty percent were panic-struck calls - business owners who were directly impacted by the lockdown measures and had to downsize or cut costs. Fifty percent were surprised business owners who suddenly saw massive uptake and didn’t know how to deal with such intense growth. However, there was one conversation that struck a chord.

A business owner running a D2C food venture had to shut down due to his inability to sustain the costs. I expected him to be as panic-struck, instead, he said “I'm glad I'm shutting down at such a difficult time. I may become poorer in terms of wealth, but I'm going to be richer than ever before in terms of lessons. I can’t wait to start again with all those lessons” He inspired me to realise something valuable - any downfall is the first step towards a great come-back. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Working in a post-COVID world

I think the world is never going to be the same again. This pandemic changed us collectively and that’s going to reflect in every stream of our life including work & business. Some changes I expect to remain:

  1. Optimisation of time - with the advent of tech, optimising time would be of great value. People see the value of doing multiple virtual meetings as opposed to spending half a day travel to an event/or a meeting.
  2. Water-tight systems - remote working requires robust systems & processes to seamlessly enable the workforce that will continue to scale.
  3. Playground for disruption - customers and businesses will be extremely open to quickly changing behaviours giving rise to more innovation
  4. Global connects - Default remote mode has enabled global connects to happen more seamlessly than ever before creating more synergy.
Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan

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