Startups hustle to keep employee morale up during the pandemic

Most companies across India have allowed employees to work remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. To motivate employees in such bleak times, startups have come up with many employee-centric initiatives such as online music concerts and mental health sessions.
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When the country went under lockdown in March last year, work from home became the norm for most employees. However, the transition has not been easy for many. 

For those working from home, long work hours, constant fear of being laid off, salary cuts, and taking up additional responsibilities like managing kids, have taken anxiety and stress to entirely new levels. And for those joining a new job remotely, adjusting to the new work culture and getting to know new colleagues remotely has been a challenge. 

Prateekshankar Dixit, Associate Director of Design at ClearTax, a Bengaluru-based fintech platform, says: “Now I am used to it because you have to do it. But the transition was not very smooth because I prefer personal interaction over video calls. I like going to the office. The environment is different and space is dedicated to work.”

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Prateekshankar started working at ClearTax in March 2021, during the pandemic.

“The biggest challenge is to make your space in a new workplace, especially now when we are hardly able to talk about anything else except work. You feel like an outsider trying to make room with people who already know each other well,” he adds. 

To break the ice with his team members, Prateekshankar does non-agenda video calls where he talks about everything but work. 

Boosting employee morale

While employees are doing their bit to make themselves comfortable in a new workplace, employers are not far behind. 

To keep employees motivated and in good health, startups are conducting attractive sessions for their employees like online music concerts, stand-up comedy sessions, online leisure, and other wellness initiatives.

They are also conducting motivational talks by inspirational leaders and mental health experts as part of employee perks and to improve their productivity and efficiency levels. 

The pandemic has not been the same for all. During the lockdown, startups in edtech, direct-to-consumer brands, fintech, ecommerce, social media, and logistics expanded their footprint due to rising demand, and those in travel and tourism have been hit. 

Twitter-backed regional social media app ShareChat hired many people amid the lockdown, to launch its new short-video platform Moj, among other things, and came up with perks to build relationships and keep its workforce motivated.  

“Remote working has definitely raised the complexity of keeping employees motivated in a corporate environment. The lack of social engagement and a sense of isolation have also accentuated the importance of companies going the extra mile to ensure a more inclusive and stimulating work culture to provide adequate motivation for its employees,” Mitalee Dabral, Vice President, Human Resources, ShareChat, said in an  email response. 

ShareChat’s CEO Ankush Sachdeva conducts company-wide bi-monthly meetings to connect with employees at all levels. There are more 1,000 employees working at the regional social media startup. 

The company is also providing Rs 50,000 allowance for employees to set up their home workspace. Childcare allowances, virtual standup comedy shows, and games also come into play. 

Sarvesh Shashi, Founder of Sarva Yoga, conducts 2 minutes of mindful meditation every Monday over a virtual call where his entire team is present. “We have not hired many people during the pandemic, Probably 6-8. But we still have to keep the morale high of our employees,” says Sarvesh. 

Founded in 2013, the on-demand yoga provider gives its employees days off to take care of themselves and their families. “If something urgent came up at work then that particular employee would need to log in to finish the task. But unless not extremely necessary we try to give ample breaks and comfort them in any way possible,” he adds. 

Hyderabad-based Value Creed, which has a lean team of 30-40 people, is also in the process of introducing virtual games.

“We have a company-wide open Chai Pe Charcha forum for employees, where anyone taking a break could start a non-work-related discussion. This is a good way for new joinees to break the ice and get to know each other,” says Samridhi Soni, who handles Human Resources for Value Creed. 

Online sessions

While most of them still miss in-person farewell parties, going out for drinks, and impromptu conversations, many startups are not willing to call their employees back to offices. 

Image source: pexels

Building relationships is a bit of a challenge in remote work settings, but working in isolation could also be beneficial as employees try and figure out many things by themselves, hence making them independent. 

A good deal of the simulations and interactions that make in-person learning valuable can be recreated through internet-based videoconferencing, says a report released by McKinsey & Company on April 8. 

The report suggests ways in which companies can make the extended remote working a success. Most people learn by doing rather than listening or a live demonstration. If companies give online sessions where they push them to personally work on something, then introducing new brands in the business could be much easier. 

New joinees could feel like outsiders when they start working in a new firm remotely. But RP Yadav, chairman and managing director of Genius Consultants, says relationship building is bound to happen.

“The impromptu conversations might not happen. But when a team has to work on a project together and meet deadlines, people end up coordinating a lot and end up getting to know each other professionally. This could then become something like an online friendship,” RP Yadav adds. 

As of now, many startups are looking to take care of employees who have either been infected, or are taking care of their families, or in some cases lost their loved ones. It is going to be a long time before anyone gets back to have lunch together with their colleagues in their cafeterias.

Edited by Megha Reddy

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