In the current climate of pandemic and social distancing, remote collaboration tools such as Slack and Asana have become the tools for businesses to enable continuity through work from home. But, when it comes to human resource management everything seems to be in the experiment stage.
How do you ensure the emotional well-being of a remote team? How do you assess and onboard a new employee without ever meeting them in-person? These are some of the pertinent questions that Indian companies are trying to answer every day in this new normal.
In our conversations with startups and VCs, most companies said that they have moved most functions online. Interviews and team meetings are being conducted on video conferencing tools like Zoom, Hangouts and other meeting apps. Chai and cigarette breaks, birthday parties, watercooler conversations, team activities — all been moved to the cloud. But is that enough?
In addition to losing touch with their teammates and office desks, employees also lost access to a reliable power supply, internet connection, and an interruption-free environment.
“We had to face major challenges in maintaining a work connection due to power outages/network infrastructure issues or personal interruption team might face at home. Some of the marketing/sales employees who are not used to work-from-home feel disconnected and isolated, that might affect their productivity,” said Rajamanohar Somasundaram, CEO of an early-stage aquaculture startup, Aquaconnect.
Obviously, remote work does not have the upside of working next to a friend or the energy exuded by a team huddle. Virtual conferences are more about work updates than actual togetherness. “Work from home is all task-oriented, without any fun aspect,” noted Shipsy’s founder Soham Chokshi.
Tackling Team Bonding And Hiring
Others are optimistic about remote work’s impact on team productivity and on bonding within small teams. With remote management and working tools, cross-functional collaboration is becoming easier for many startups that have project-related tasks.
But onboarding new employees is a huge challenge for companies given the lack of repertoire between the company and employee. Startups have devised multiple ways to solve this challenge.
While, MyGate and Blume Ventures decided to tackle remote onboarding by collating all company information on a shareable space, and doing a virtual greet and meet with the team. While MobiKwik had been using a hybrid process where the new recruit, the HR manager and team manager would come to the office for a day, this was before the nationwide lockdown. Others who have been using this approach would also have to change their strategy.
Social commerce company Coutloot is managing the hiring and onboarding processes via audio/video calls in tandem with giving online tasks. “Educating the process through images and videos is the key to provide as much information as possible which in some cases could give more clarity to the new recruit due to the visualisation,” said Coutloot cofounder Jasmeet Thind.
Will Virtual Hiring Become The Norm?
Although all hiring operations of companies have been moved online, there are some teething issues that are yet to be tackled, noted HackerEarth’s HR director Swetha Harikrishnan. Principal at Blume Ventures Sarita Raichura also hinted towards some unreliability on online hiring processes as the VC firm considers holding off the final offer for critical positions, until the pandemic passes and they get a chance to meet the candidate in-person.
Skill development startup Coding Ninjas is also stalling the final interview rounds for the senior positions, for the next two weeks. Cofounder Ankush Singla stressed on the importance of physical meetings in understanding the communication, approach and body language of the candidates. Same is the case with home services startup, Housejoy, which is continuing with virtual interviews for hiring but has moved joining dates to a more feasible time.
Noting another challenge, Blume’s Raichura said, “The specific challenge will be with onboarding interns. We have hired a few interns for the summer. Managing and monitoring them will surely be difficult as they need a lot of hand-holding.”
However, might the founders feel about this situation, the reality of the world has been made very clear by the constant rise in coronavirus cases around the globe. The best one can do in times of such uncertainty is to stay empathetic.
As Kissflow’s CEO Suresh Sambandam puts it, “The important thing is to be empathetic. People are facing the reality of having kids at home all the time. People have aged parents who are particularly vulnerable. So we know that we must not aim for perfection here. We anticipate a 30-40% reduction in our productivity, and we are ready to deal with that.”
With inputs from Amit Raja Naik.
Correction Note | 14:43, March 27, 2020
The name of the company Coding Ninjas and its cofounder Ankush Singla were corrected.