Aishwarya Ramesh
Viral Diaries

Viral Diaries: Ola's Aishvarya Murali on WFH during the Coronavirus outbreak

The first interview of the new series is with Aishvarya Murali - head of marketing, Ola Cabs on the challenges of working from home, multitasking, etc.

With the spread of the novel Coronavirus being declared as a global pandemic, companies have instructed employees to work from home (WFH.) For most full time employees, working from home can be challenging, given the environment - generally involving screaming children, ringing doorbells, and noisy pressure cookers. In such a situation, how does one stay productive and battle the challenges that come with working from home? afaqs!' latest series focuses on just that. Viral Diaries is a peek into the working lives of advertising, media and marketing professionals to understand how they deal with the challenges that come with working from home, especially during these trying times.

The first interview in the series is with with the marketing head of ride hailing company Ola cabs. Aishvarya Murali joined Ola in July 2019 after a stint at online furniture shopping site Furlenco. At Furlenco, she worked as the Vice President of marketing and growth. Prior to joining Furlenco, she spent nearly a decade working at Unilever as a marketing manager to different divisions. Here's her take on WFH...

Which app/tool are you using to video conference with your team/clients? And what’s your go-to option for file sharing?

A: We use Zoom mostly for video conferencing and share files through e-mail and WhatsApp. We also collaborate a lot using Google Docs and other Google services. It’s not that big of a departure for us since we coordinate with international teams regularly to work...

A lot of times when I’m doing a Zoom call, I encourage my kids to come and sit with me because they want to be next to me when I’m at home and I’m okay with that. They say hi to my team as well, and trust me, they always get bored within a few minutes and wander off, themselves. I don’t believe in shutting the door while working, because what will they do? They’re at home and sometimes they don’t have anything else to do... So I’m perfectly okay with opening the door and letting them run around for a bit (they know they have to be quiet) or sit with me and observe.

Aishvarya Murali
Aishvarya Murali

How are you dividing up your work day? Give us a sense of how you’re managing your time and what your work-from-home routine is like.

It’s challenging for a lot of people to work from home given the current situation. Most people, in addition to working, have to take care of their homes as well. I find that I’m productive and I’m able to get work done in the solitary time that I have before the kids wake up. I used to do this before and now, all the more so. You also save a lot of money on commute right? That’s a solid one-one and a half hours of extra time that you get in your day – that’s a big advantage.

My kids currently have their own timetable and they’re able to keep themselves occupied. Their school lessons have begun from home and that keeps them busy throughout the day. But they need to be given breakfast, lunch, an evening snack etc… So its challenging for sure. It helps to multitask. Sometimes, I’m cooking while on a call or sitting down with kids when they’re doing homework to do my office work. These are things that parents are learning along the way – given the situation that we’ve been facing in the last two weeks.

What do you miss most about office and being in that physical space?

Honestly, I think a lot of things that you have in an office can be substituted from home. I think what I miss the most, is gauging a person’s body language or reaction when they’re in front of me. When you brainstorm, you feed off another person’s energy and that’s how you get the best outputs. Those kinds of things are still one degree removed, when you’re working from home. I would still say its not impossible, but its nice to sit across someone and discuss an idea with them.

That’s not to say that brainstorming can’t be done remotely, it’s just that it works better when you’re in the same room as them. I don’t miss chatting with someone by the water cooler or something like that because when I need to talk to someone, I can just pick up the phone and speak to them – but that’s specific to me.

Ideally, how frequently should a team leader/manager check in on her/his team? Any long distance people management tips?

You can be more modular with your meetings and it doesn’t have to be at a particular time. It can even be flexible, as and when the need arises. I feel its more productive to have a meeting in the morning when you catch up with your team and figure out what everyone is up to. That’s a good way to start the day. Get your entire team together and its good for people to turn on their videos during this call – and not just participate in telecons. It gives that sense of togetherness, even when we’re not physically together.

I love seeing other people’s kids and pets – I’ve met so many of my colleagues' children over video call in the last few weeks. You learn a lot about other people’s lives in the entire situation. I think turning on video really helps because you can see things happening in the background and you can ask them about it and talk to them and find out more... In office, you only see people in their nicely tailored suits. At home, you see them in their real environment.

Lastly, what’s the one thing you see yourself doing differently once the work-from-home phase ends? To rephrase, what’s the biggest lesson here, for you?

Work from home has a lot of things to teach us and the biggest learning from it is discipline. We know we have to wake up and do things at a particular time. It also teaches us to work within constraints and find unique ways of doing things which wouldn’t have been possible while working remotely. We’ve found that we’ve been just as creative and productive while working from home.

In fact, work from home should be something we do as a discipline every once in a while. If we are able to prove that we can effectively work from home over the next three weeks, it will be good for the environment too. There’s a lot less resources spent on commuting and hence, it makes sense from an environmental point of view.

This situation is clearly teaching us a lesson in being more frugal, conscious, eating healthier, etc.. Which are all really good lessons to take forward when quarantine ends. We’re forcing ourselves not to eat out by staying inside the house and we have to ration our provisions – doing so is an essential even when we’re not in a lockdown situation.

Viral Diaries is a daily peek into how advertising, media and marketing professionals are dealing with working from home in these trying times.