The new normals in a world where Covid-19 unfortunately is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly the way we live our life.
The nation-wide lockdown is slowly being lifted across orange and green zones and life is slowly crawling back to a new-normalcy. Businesses and brands are now are making their way back into the business; planning their communication plans for a new world post the covid-19 lockdown.
Today we speak to Sunil Mirani, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ugam, a Merkle company on their Back to Business strategies.
How are you coping-up with the impact of Covid-19 on Ugam? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
There is no playbook created to guide businesses through an unprecedented crisis like COVID-19. I have been reading a lot, speaking to several people across different walks of life to understand different perspectives, measures being undertaken, etc. And the way I approached it, is much like steering a race car. At a sharp bend, one needs to first brake hard – not so hard that the car spins out of control; yet hard enough that it does not crash. Second, navigate precisely around the bend while continuing to brake. Last, be ready to accelerate at the right time as one moves past the bend.
At Ugam, we have applied brakes to control costs and conserve cash. In fact, we have revisited and implemented zero-based budgets, enabling us to pause several non-essential spends. We have also reallocated resources to enable a 100% Work-From-Home model.
As we navigate, we are reimagining employee engagement and talent upskilling in a virtual world; staying close to our employees and customers to truly understand their needs; identifying new and relevant go-to-market business propositions; focusing on business continuity – IT infrastructure, connectivity; and constantly evaluating and managing business risk. This is helping us lay the foundation to accelerate when the time is right.
The quest for a solution to a crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models … What sort of innovation has or will the Covid-19 pandemic bring to your brand/industry / category?
COVID-19 in some way is forcing businesses to reinvent their offering. Changed and potentially permanent consumer preferences and market dynamism will guide these reinvention decisions. Businesses that reinvent their offering faster, smarter, and more decisively by leveraging data and analytics are more likely to remain relevant in the long run.
For most B2B and B2C enterprises, deploying cost-effective and agile solutions, deriving total customer insights, and accelerating digital is the need of the hour. Given this context and based on our client interactions, Ugam has identified analytics-led COVID propositions centred around these client needs to help them navigate through this crisis. We are also adapting and innovating our ‘go-to-market’ approach to engage with clients as they prefer to interact with us virtually. While we have begun our client outreach with these COVID-19 propositions, we realize that the key is to stay close to our clients, test and learn, and be agile to pivot when required.
In addition, we have reinvented our existing systems and processes to support the 100% work from home model. Functions such as HR, Finance, IT that previously weren’t equipped to work from home, have adapted to this new model. This includes virtual onboarding, training and employee engagements; digitizing some policies & processes such as leave, reimbursements, vendor payments and IT support. Going forward, I envision a hybrid work from home and office model.
While some parts of the country have become Covid-19 free, cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still in a lockdown situation. How are you planning to resume business across cities that are not in the Red?
Employee safety and well-being is and always will be our top priority. No amount of overemphasis can understate its criticality and importance. As we plan to open-up offices, we will do so in a phase-wise manner, depending on the need and criticality. Government guidelines and policies are a bare minimum. We will only go over and beyond.
Our teams across IT, HR, and Admin are working towards implementing a more robust tech infrastructure, modifying the physical infrastructure to work in a post-COVID world, and preparing for a comprehensive, phase-wise return to office (RTO) protocol. The RTO will detail which teams will begin working from office and in what stages, take into consideration individual preferences for work locations, detail out adherence to social distancing, deep cleaning, and other safety norms.
In addition, like I mentioned above, there will be some adaptation to a hybrid work from home and office model in the long-term. And hence, depending on the business need, employee productivity at home versus office, and employee preference, we will put this hybrid model into action.
What will be your communication strategy post the opening of the lockdown? What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
The two key stakeholders for Ugam are our employees and clients. While communicating with these stakeholders during this crisis, being empathetic will continue to be our number one prerogative. This empathy is manifested not only in our words but through our actions as well. In addition, we will also consider local preferences and nuances to provide the right communication to the right audience. We will constantly engage with our stakeholders to understand their needs to relate with them better.
We will continue to be proactive, consistent, and transparent in our communication, ensuring our stakeholders are informed of our present and future plans. We will ensure effective two-way communication through one-to-one chats, intimate group settings and even large forums. This will be enabled via email, video chats, social and other virtual media.
How did you keep the morale of the employees during this lockdown period?
Increased ambiguity around the COVID-19 situation and lack of in-person conversations could lead to anxiety and affect employee morale. In such situations, regular and transparent two-way communication and empathy go a long way. I would regularly connect with employees through weekly townhalls, surveys, and address any question that they may have around job security, work from home, business health, and so on. This has certainly helped build trust and a personal connect. In fact, in one of our pulse-check surveys, more than 50% of employees felt extremely positive even during these tough times.
In addition, we have over 50 employee engagement activities to groom employees and build a personal connect. A plethora of resources are made available for employees to self-learn and upskill during the lockdown. We also have external experts who counsel and guide our employees on mental, physical, and financial well-being through videos, webinars, etc. Further, to shuffle fun with work, we have engagement initiatives like quizzes, fun trivia with fellow Ugamites, personalized Ugam challenges, cooking contests, virtual team-building exercises, virtual rewards and recognition programs, connects to engage with family and kids, and lots more!
And none of these are one and done. These initiatives are running consistently, and we will only upgrade to ensure it is more interactive and effective. All these initiatives go a long way in building employee morale.
On a personal note, what kept you positive?
I had very soon accepted that we’re in this for the long haul. I know that while I cannot change my circumstances, I can always choose my response. The way I see it, I am immensely grateful that I have food on the table, a roof on my head, my family with me, and a business that is functional. Everything else is a mere inconvenience! Moreover, knowing that people depend on you is the best motivation. While this is true for everybody in the company in any role, for me personally, I know the buck stops with me! That is motivation enough for me to be on top of my game – mentally, physically, and emotionally!
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
As we prepare to accelerate and bring the business back on track, I would think it is imperative to first address some key business considerations around – the fundamental need of one’s product / service, the method of access or consumption, and the changes that need to be made to manufacture / deliver that product or service. This would include diversifying into newer segments, verticals, and functions across newer geographies. And as we do that, we will also need to reimagine processes and servicing client needs in a virtual world.
At Ugam, we are evaluating newer, ‘contactless delivery’ means for our sales teams to engage with clients; investing in improving employee productivity as we gradually implement a hybrid work from home and office model; strengthening our information security and safety systems to build a more robust tech-enabled infrastructure; and deploying automation to improve agility and efficiency in processes.
More importantly, there could arise a need for a flexible workforce structure driven by the hybrid work from home and employee model. Maintaining our unique culture in a world of modified “employer-employee social contract” by reimagining talent hiring, training, and engagement, in the long run, will be key.