As the country and businesses across the board grapple with a second, sadly more devastating, wave, startups in India have taken several measures to safeguard their own employees, while also dealing with the health crisis facing the country. Among them is social commerce unicorn Meesho, which managed to overcome the business slowdown through the first wave of the pandemic last year with a number of strong pivots to make it to Inc42’s Survivor Series. But this time is different and the second wave is much “deadlier” says the company which is why it has taken steps to help both its employees as well as its micro-entrepreneurs or social commerce resellers.
Founded in 2015 by Sanjeev Barnwal, and Vidit Aatrey, last year Meesho added relevant product categories during the lockdown to protect the income of its network of over 2 Mn resellers, of which 80% are women, this time around it has launched a dedicated fund for its employees as well as resellers, announced insurance covers and medical reimbursement as well as mental health and wellbeing support. It is also offering easy interest-free credit to resellers to help them overcome the crisis.
Meesho Doubles Its Focus On Employee Wellness
To begin with, Meesho has set aside a corpus of INR 5 Cr to support its employees and their families financially, emotionally and mentally. It has also set up an in-house Covid task force of volunteers that is helping to verify the information and leads related to Covid resources.
“Meeshoites have taken it to 10X level and extended this help to their colleagues and others across the country. We are inspired by how Meeshoites across the board came together and have been dedicating all their free time and energy to help those in need,” Aatrey told Inc42.
The company announced paid leaves of up to 14 days to help Covid positive employees recover as well as special unlimited paid caregiver leave as needed for those taking care of family members with Covid in the same household. It has also procured oxygen concentrators in major cities for urgent needs of employees and their dependents.
Social Commerce Seller Ecosystem Revival
Given that over 2 Mn resellers depend on Meesho for their livelihoods, it is not surprising that the company has extended a number of benefits for them as well. Apart from extending Covid medical resources through the platform itself, the company has also declared a corpus of INR 1 Cr to offer interest-free loans to eligible entrepreneurs.
For sellers, depending on the lockdown situation in their respective geographies, the company is taking a call towards waiving penalty for violation of terms in the service level agreements for specific cases. “Fully understanding the operational challenges that sellers face during the lockdown, Meesho has been actively waiving off penalties pertaining to breach of supplier SLAs since the last three weeks. Similar waivers will be extended to more sellers in the next 6–8 weeks depending on lockdown restrictions in their respective cities,” the company said in a blog post.
Considering that many smaller sellers are facing a huge toll financially, Meesho will waive off all commissions on orders placed for four weeks starting May 15 for smaller sellers who comprise 55% of its total active supplier base. Sellers who had an average monthly gross merchandise value (GMV) of INR 10K or lower in the first three months of 2021 will be provided this waiver as a reimbursement. The company has also reduced the payment cycle for these sellers from the existing 15 days to 8 days during this period.
How Meesho’s Operations Have Changed
Work from home measures were taken as a necessary pivot across businesses last year. However, for a large chunk of businesses, these were also temporary measures to be abandoned by the end of 2020 as people thought the worst to be behind them. One measure of how serious companies are about their work from home initiatives can also be gauged from how they spend on employee collaboration tools and solutions. Of course, not all business models allow for complete remote working.
Meesho went into remote working mode even before the lockdown was announced in March 2020. Managers and teams were constantly in touch with employees to help them adapt as smoothly as possible. Given the situation, the company does not think it can open offices anytime soon.
“At this point of time, we cannot take a call as to what kind of a hybrid model will work for us in the future. It all depends on the current and future situation. The safety of our employees is top priority for us and at the moment we are all continuing to work from home,” said Aatrey.
While hiring and day-to-day task management is easy enough now, how has Meesho managed employee productivity?
“As a culture, we don’t believe in micromanaging and scrutinizing our employees and their day-to-day work. Every employee’s role is well defined and designed in such a way that they get to take full ownership (a core Meesho value) of their tasks/projects, and the nature of their work is problem solving in nature,” said Aatrey.
The biggest change over the past year has been in moving the organisation away from requirements for a fixed work schedule, which is just not possible in the current uncertain situation. Meesho has accepted this scenario and allowed processes to slow down so that employees can function better.
“…As a company we have slowed down structurally. No meetings Wednesdays or optional offs on Wednesdays during the month of May are initiatives taken to give our employees a breather,” said Aatrey.
Of course, Meesho is not alone in implementing most or all of these initiatives. The Indian startup ecosystem has stepped up to the occasion and mobilised Covid relief efforts across the board. Every company out there is struggling to find the right balance between work, relaxation and health concerns for employees today. We won’t know which models will work out the best until much later. One thing is certain, as the situation on the ground evolves, companies will have to adapt to different models. We hope to highlight more of these initiatives as Indian startups continue to work through the crisis in the days to come.