Startup founders often don’t realise just how much power their opinions have. A throwaway tweet can often have unintended consequences. And in times of crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, when lifestyles and behaviours are being forcefully changed and human lives are at stake, the responsibility of founders takes on an altogether different meaning.
So when Flipkart cofounder and one of the most active angel investors Sachin Bansal says that working from home has not been great, there will be some ripple effect. No stranger to controversial tweets, Bansal said yesterday, “WFH Sucks”. It might have been considered just another meaningless tweet, but Bansal dug in further with his responses.
Many pointed out that business leaders like Bansal should consider themselves lucky. “Think of millions working in logistics, delivery, kitchens, hospitals, metro stations, trains stations, daily wagers who don’t even have this option,” said Innerchef founder Rajesh Sawhney.
But Bansal simply replied that he doesn’t feel lucky enough. In other responses, he said working from home diminishes his productivity as his work is 100% related to meetings. While his sentiment has been supported through retweets by entrepreneurs and investors.
For one, however much Bansal would like to deny, the fact is that those with cushier jobs than others do have a privilege of missing out on going to the office and still earning a salary. Many IT companies are unable to meet the demand for enterprise-grade laptops, smartphones and networking devices that are essential for sensitive work in the IT sector, so these workers have been forced to come into work in many cases.
Startups Calling For A Lockdown
Even among those offices that are on the fence about working from home — though we don’t know how much worse the situation has to get to convince them — the opinion of an admired business leader matters. When Sachin Bansal, the multi-billionaire founder of an ecommerce empire, says working from home “sucks”, it does influence other business owners and even startup founders. The responsibility is with such business leaders to set the right precedent.
Manish Dudharejia, E2M Solutions founder highlighted that everyone has the right to share their personal opinion, but this is definitely not the right time for such statements “specifically when you’re an influencer. More people need to hear #WorkFromHome is the most important thing needed in the world right now!”
Not just Dudharejia — around 70 startup founders and investors would at least like to adopt the much-needed self-isolation approach. Some of India’s biggest tech startups and investors have urged the government to take steps for at least two lockdowns in India with curfew rules to ‘flatten the curve’.
They have suggested that the government should impose strict lockdowns and Section 144 or curfew law against group gatherings across major cities by March 20 for two weeks. Also, keeping in mind the long impact of coronavirus, investors like Sequoia and Lightspeed have also advised founders to brace for the worst and prepare contingencies along with prioritising a sound runway.
Is Working From Home Really All That Bad?
Outside the tech startup and corporate world, the reality is grim on the ground. When those who work from the safety of their homes find the need to order food, cigarettes or groceries, delivery partners are literally putting their lives on the line. In the days to come, the situation will be out of hand, and no one cannot expect deliveries to continue as if life is unchanged.
Here’s the bleak picture reportedly painted by Goldman Sachs for its investors this week. In an unconfirmed set of notes from an investor call this week, Goldman reportedly claimed that up to 150 Mn people in the US is expected to be infected with the coronavirus.
In other words, working-from-home is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Not the first time Bansal has delved into Twitter debates this month. Last week, Bansal had tweeted to seek opinions on “opportunities” for India amid coronavirus. To this, Kunal Shah, founder, Cred had said that “If world perfects WFH skills, high-quality jobs could be done from India as H in WFH can be anywhere.”
Pooja Bajaj Chadha, founder of ExtraMile, an employee engagement company told Inc42, “Giving employees the control on where, when and how they can operate gives you better results. Employees welcome flexibility, are agile and find it easier to balance work and life, are mentally healthier and are happier. This, in turn, boosts productivity and performance.”
As doctors, researchers and governments around the world team up to fight the global threat to humanity from coronavirus, those in power such as business leaders, community heads and politicians bear a little more responsibility than others.
The environment is already tough as brands are also faltering — but brands are often uncoordinated entities and such follies can be forgiven for them. A lot more is expected from respected leaders in India Inc, especially someone like Bansal, who has aspirations of running a national bank.