Working From Home Amid Coronavirus? Do It Bengaluru Start-Ups Way

A flexible work culture and team work and trust has enabled most start-ups to easily switch to work from home.

Updated
India
5 min read
Several start-ups in India’s Silicon Valley had already switched to a remote working model in the first week of March.
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Bengaluru’s start-ups are seemingly ahead of the curve – yet again.

Even before Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa put the state on a virtual lockdown to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, several start-ups in India’s Silicon Valley had already switched to a remote working model in the first week of March.

While several larger, more diversified companies are struggling to constitute a company-wide work from home (WFH) policy, flexible working hours and a culture built around trust and conducive work structures eased the transition for start-ups, allowing them to prioritise their employees’ safety while retaining productivity.

‘Remote Working Is Default Model’

Abhimanyu Singh, who runs Agara Labs, a two-and-a-half year old deep-tech company out of Bengaluru’s Koramangala, said the idea of working remotely has been ingrained in his employees from the very beginning.

Starting 6 March, all of Agara Labs’ 30 employees have been working from home.

Working From Home Amid Coronavirus? Do It Bengaluru Start-Ups Way

“Our customers are all around the world so we are already used to virtual and remote working. That’s the default model. We had our platforms built such that coordination, communication and the structures are built to facilitate ‘virtual working’. Having a small team makes it easier,” he said.

For some other start-ups, trial and error was the key to nailing the transition.

Chirdeep Shetty, CEO of publishing platform Quintype Technologies on Old Airport Road, said that the company had been able to reduce the strength at office from 100 to 10 starting 16 March after a two-day pilot the previous week.

“People were more productive and, in fact, didn’t have to waste time in Bengaluru traffic.”
Chirdeep Shetty, CEO of Quintype Technologies

“We saw what was happening in America and Europe, and knew that it was inevitable that it would happen here as well. So last week, we made half the staff work on one day and the second half the following day, just to see how it would pan out. It was a great success,” Shetty laughs.

Pointing out that employees could focus more at home without getting involved in non-core tasks, Shetty said that since much of the work is cloud-focused, everyone is able to stay on the same page.

‘Not Micro-Managing Leads to Higher Productivity’

Singh of Agara Labs and Shetty of Quintype Technologies echoed that micro-managing is counterproductive.

Working From Home Amid Coronavirus? Do It Bengaluru Start-Ups Way

“Once the habit has been built that you communicate online, the work gets done. The advantage of having such a policy is that there is no judgment if you’re not being able to work properly. We have never been the kind of management that breathes down our employees’ necks,” he said.

“If you don’t have the right trust and the work culture, then this won’t work. You have to leave micro-managing behind,” Shetty added. “We put everyone’s contact numbers on Slack, so that even if they were away from the system, they were reachable. Instead of making individuals accountable, the team leads and managers had to drive their own time. For a majority of teams, it was super successful.”

‘Keep Employees Engaged Through Informal Chatter & Skype Sessions’

Gaurav Aggarwal, CEO and Founder of Savaari Car Rentals that offers chauffeur-driven cab services through online bookings, managed to reduce employees coming to work from 150 to 10.

“While there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction and the team work it enables, we had to put our employees’ health first. We stay connected through Skype and have set clear weekly goals. We have no imposed any restrictions or made any changes and have flexible timings, as long as the work is done, we are happy,” he said.

Other companies, too, talked about why continuous Skype calls or just checking in on your colleagues is a plus.

Gitika Srivastava, founder of Navya, a clinical informatics start-up, said while her company championed collaboration between teams, they hurriedly rolled out their virtual private network (VPN) weeks in advance, anticipating such a situation.

Working From Home Amid Coronavirus? Do It Bengaluru Start-Ups Way

“We spent the last week educating ourselves on how to recruit, train and conduct work over the phone with our patients. We’ve never had a WFH model, not propagated it but now it was imperative.” she said on the phone from the US, from where she is supervising the company.

“We maintain informal conversations on our WhatsApp groups, ask employees to share pictures of their WFH set-ups, just to keep the mood light. We also keep sharing facts about the virus and myth-busting so everyone is aware,” Srivastava said.

However, some companies had to make exceptions to the rule when inadequate WFH set-ups and poor network issues plagued some of their employees.

“A few people stay as paying guests, they don’t have a table to sit and work, they basically have a bed, so that’s not conducive for them. We had another employee who did not have broadband internet so we have allowed such people to come to work but we ensure that they sit far apart,” Shetty said.

Bigger Companies Unclear on WFH Policy

On the other hand, only a few employees of major tech companies in Bengaluru said that they received mandatory work from home orders, while others said that they had been merely been ‘’recommended’ to do the same, with scores of people going to work every day.

A senior programmer with a large MNC said that there had been no official email asking them to work remotely:

“There was no mail making it mandatory, so we have no clarity. Certain teams that always had the flexibility of working from home due to overseas partners and irregular working hours are the only ones exercising the option.”

A senior engineer with a major tech firm echoed the same. “Officially we have not been asked to work from home, we have been recommended,” they said.

They also added that there was a lot of information and support coming in from those in leadership roles, as the lockdown was put in place. However, as of now, it seems that only a few major companies have unilaterally imposed a WFH policy.

As of now, it seems that only a few major companies have unilaterally imposed a WFH policy.

“The company has given guidelines, that strictly tell employees that have to work from home for two weeks except for some teams. Such a large number of employees have not worked remotely before so first few days will be like a trial,” said Sarmila Mangaraj, a senior developer with HP working out of Electronic City.

In an email response, Google representatives said that office spaces remained ‘open and safe with temperature screening’ and that they had moved from ‘voluntary to recommended work from home guidance across all of our offices in Asia Pacific’.

The Quint has reached out to Wipro and Mindtree for their responses.

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