How to be a CEO-from-home amid coronavirus lockdown

“There are a lot of learnings on the fly.” …

As Indian businesses come to terms with a post-coronavirus world, the role of the CEO is evolving.

From enabling their teams to work remotely at scale to resetting business goals and realigning operations, these highest-ranking officers are dealing with economic and management hurdles that are unheard of.

“In the 32 years of my working life, I have seen four recessions but nothing like this,” Ashish Bhasin, CEO for APAC and chairman for India at Dentsu Aegis Network, a London-based media and digital agency, told Quartz. “There is nothing you can fall back upon as learnings. There are a lot of learnings on the fly.”

Quartz spoke with several Indian business leaders to understand how they’re ensuring business continuity and being effective in running the show. Here are some tips:

Adapt to change

At times, you need to take a step back in order to move forward.

Our products and services come under essential commodities. To manage the business during the lockdown, we have scaled down the operations and are providing a selective range of food products (idly dosa batter, chapati, and parotta, etc) till things return to normal. We are operating only in key markets so that the risk of the virus is minimised for our employees. – Musthafa PC, co-founder & CEO, iD Fresh Food

Take tough steps fast

There’s no point waiting for the ship to start sinking before fixing the holes. Be proactive.

To conserve capital, we have stopped all discretionary spends and are focused on reducing variable expenses to drive savings. We have renegotiated contracts with our partners to ensure continuity of business with a commitment to our partners that when the situation stabilises, we will go back to original contractual terms. – Amit Ramani, CEO & MD, Awfis

Eye on the future

Use the time you have right now to prepare for a tough fight ahead.

We continue to support different stakeholders so that once the current crisis is over they are ready to support the business. The company has extended rental support to franchisee outlet owners during the lockdown and extended credit terms to distributors. We are preparing to list more relevant products on e-commerce platforms including bulk storage and personal hygiene solutions. Once the situation improves and the lockdown restrictions ease, e-commerce sales channel will get a flip and we are preparing for the same. – Deepak Chhabra, MD, Tupperware India

Be honest and transparent

Working from home can often lead to a feeling of isolation. Therefore, it becomes important for a business leader to communicate more than usual.

Even as we practise social distancing we must practise virtual proximity. We need to communicate more. This is the time to show leadership and to get your people together helping ease their anxiety. As a leader, your job is to be positive and transparent with your team. It is not the time to hide the truth from employees. Be honest with them and tell them you are together in this. – Bhasin of Dentsu Aegis Network

Use technology

Remote working can be made smoother with the use of technologies such as virtual conferencing and instant messengers.

We are holding daily meetings via video conferencing with all the team leads. Processes have been put in place to conduct and monitor work smoothly via apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts, etc. Document collaboration tools are also playing an important role in creating and managing shared assets for all work-related matters. – Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder & director, Wakefit.co

Strive for work-life balance

Even if we’re all at home all day, every day, it’s important to have a demarcation between work and personal life.

It is great to have family around while working from home. With no or reduced travel time, you have more time for work and the family. Ensure you are focusing on what you are doing at a given time without distractions. If you are working on something, ensure you finish it, you can’t be with the family and work at the same time. – Harshvardhan Lunia, CEO & MD at Lendingkart

Go the extra mile

During tough times, companies and leaders must go beyond just daily tasks to keep their teams’ spirits high.

Our HR team is taking multiple initiatives such as virtual fitness programmes to boost employee morale and engagement. The team shares wellness tips with the employees and urges them to take a few minutes to meditate and keep their physical fitness in check. We also have an employee assistance programme called “Santulan” where expert help is available for employees who need to manage stress. – Vikram Chopra, co-founder & CEO, CARS24

Self-care

While trying to take care of your business and team, it’s essential that a leader is mindful of his/her own wellbeing first.

I have tried to build a routine so that I stay on the ball for all activities and yet be there for the team when they need me. This includes meditation, a fitness routine, writing and reading more than usual, and focusing exclusively on work during the working hours. This also means small things such as shaving and dressing up before coming to the desk for the day’s video calls. Keeping a dedicated workspace also helps in working efficiently. – Ramalingegowda of Wakefit.co

Channelise positivity

No matter how bad things might appear right now, it is essential to remain hopeful.

It is important to be optimistic about the fact that this phase will pass, and we must also utilise the current circumstances to do things that bring joy to our lives. I’m reading every day to my four-year-old daughter and recording her book reviews. It takes 10-15 minutes a day, but it is a lot of fun! Please do find your moments of joy in these times. – Kunal Bahl, CEO & co-founder, Snapdeal 

In a crisis like this, being positive is the key to success. I’m enjoying time with my family. I have taken this opportunity to spend more time at the gym. All of us need to stay fit mentally and physically to beat Covid-19. –Gautam Hari Singhania, chief managing director, Raymond 

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