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From offices to online to back to offices: What did start-ups learn? We speak with people leaders of various startups to understand their learnings about building company culture's in a remote setting

By Akshit Pushkarna Edited by Punita Sabharwal

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The pandemic introduced one of the most turbulent times one can witness in their lifetimes. While it introduced unprecedented disruptions in the way we lead our personal lives, it also introduced changes, which some might deem irreversible, in the way we work and navigate our professional lives. The transition from March 2020 to the consequent months, wherein the virus slowly started devouring the world, brought about changes to which some companies and businesses adopted quickly, leaving others to wither away.

Because of the COVID-19 protocols that were in effect for the greater part of 2020 and 2021, startups, unlike other companies, took their entire operations online. Remote operation has been the key change that the pandemic introduced in the way we work experts predict will leave long-term imprints on the workspace. More than the workspace, it has brought about changes in the way employee-employer relations work, how people look for jobs. "Two years ago, working remotely would not have seemed like a possibility, but the pandemic significantly altered workplace dynamics. It presented us with an opportunity to innovate, leverage technology, and uncover the potential of a remote working setup," Pravin Prakash, Chief People Officer, BYJU'S, tells Entrepreneur India.

It is a common observance that a sizeable chunk of the workforce now prefers to take up professional engagements based on the flexibility of the workplace; whether options to work remotely are available or not. Multiple reports indicate that there is a shift in preference for people around job locations.

This has pushed employer decisions in terms of the future of their workplace, and a majority of them are considering a mix of physical office presence and remote working for the future of their workplace. Prakash explains that the future of work at BYJU's would be hybrid.

For BYJU's, the company's large sales force operated physically in a direct-to-customer approach. While the ed-tech platform relies on the formidability of their product, their sales force does a significant groundwork, which put the product on the map.

Since the sales force couldn't interact with the customer directly, the company had to revise its operation, bringing it online and somehow preserving the effectiveness that it had offline. "Keeping the safety of our teams as a priority, our teams adapted to virtual working. While the teachers started delivering classes from their homes, our sales team helped students and parents experience the product through online demos," Prakash said.

He claims that the company saw a massive increase in the uptake of their learning programs, with over 50 million new students using their platform in the first few months of the pandemic.

While BYJUs claims its team maintained a motivation level and thus a steady rate of attrition, others didn't fare as well in keeping their workforce intact. The major people trend the pandemic brought forth was the "Great Resignation'.

A study by HR firm Aon analysed data across 1,500 companies from over 40 industries and found out that attrition across sectors is estimated to be 21% in 2021 compared. This is compared to an average attrition rate found by the survey at about 12.8% in 2020.

While companies are vying for a continuously shrinking talent pool, the companies who had pre-invested time and energy in developing a company culture.

Chitbhanu Nagri, Senior VP, People Operations, Razorpay, elaborates, "To some extent, the "Great Resignation has affected every organisation in the industry. But based on my assessment of the market, we at RazorPay have still been able to manage reasonable rates of attrition during this period, about 30 percent lower than the market average."

He opines that the impact of the Great Resignation on an organisation is fundamentally related to how deeply an organisation values culture fitment that is finding talent who matches with the culture of the company. So it is not possible for a company that didn't have culture fitment as a top priority pre-pandemic to champion culture fitment in a remote setting, which is where the Great Resignation was in full effect.

Razorpay utilises a talent acquisition strategy through which Nagri claims that more rejections happen because of their belief that the person might not be a culture fit rather than a competency fit for roles.

He elaborates their talent acquisition strategy, which utilises one HR-centric round, through which the interviewer does a deep assessment of the personality of the talent and gets a general idea of their behavior, communication skills, instinctive abilities, etc,.

"We look for things like "Can the person to question status quo?', "Their belief in the transparency of a system?', "How much focus they put on solving deep customer problems?' With the discussions, we try to understand the person's background, experiences, and try to gauge how a person has reacted to certain situations and how that compares to how we see a Razor, a Razorpay employee," he explains.

The process' structure has been followed by Razorpay when they went remote from their operation. The recent addition that they made was to add a "Debrief' round, where all the interviewers who have assessed a particular talent discuss their suitability, and the final decision is made thereafter.

While a highly efficient talent assessment system does help the company identify the right talent, it still doesn't quench the dearth of talent that is plaguing the market as of now. In the current climate, retention of pre-existing employees has become more important than ever. For retention, Nagri explains that focusing on designing people-friendly policies has been the primary agenda of any company's personnel management department.

"Flexibility and wellness policies have become an important factor. Although I have not seen many people viewing them as a deciding factor for engagement as of now, it is a very strong enabler of retention within an organisation," he said.

Many new-age companies have hit the headlines with their introduction of people-friendly policies during the pandemic and thereafter. "Understanding the gravity of the situation, in the last two years, we have taken several initiatives to raise employee health and wellbeing awareness. To increase the long-term productivity of our employees and keep their morale strong, we have started a set of preventive measures to safeguard & support our team, which includes Central Support Helpline for team members to improve assistance capacity and availability. Spinny has also launched a wellness program among employees to promote awareness of mental health issues, encouraging them to seek help when required while undertaking daily initiatives to improve their mental health," Niraj Singh, CEO, and founder, Spinny, tells Entrepreneur India.

Chitbhanu Nagri adds that the pandemic's primary teaching to developing a nurturing ecosystem for employees is to inculcate the importance of empathy among their people. "This has put HR at the forefront of building a work culture which fosters empathy and created an opportunity to build a solid work culture around people," he adds.

Under various initiatives taken by BYJUs for their employees, a few stand out. They are now running workshops on stress and financial management for their employees.

In conclusion, Nagri highlighted an important point that sums up the learnings that the pandemic introduced in our professional lives. Pandemic taught us the importance of how important empathy is for people to work together and succeed, he expressed, adding, "The biggest realisation only comes when it affects you personally and at that point when you see your organisation besides you, which affects the mindset of your employees."

Akshit Pushkarna

Features Writer

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