Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Viral Diaries

"Fatigue will set in and we need to guard against it": Tarun Rai

Rai, the chairman and group CEO of Wunderman Thompson South Asia, now saves 2.5 hours of his daily travel time and has plans to invest some of it in learning to play the guitar.

As a part of our 'Viral Diaries' series, we asked Rai about the flow of his WFH workday.

What’s your tip for media/marketing professionals dealing with anxiety during these times? How can one focus better while working from home?

The most important aspect is maintaining boundaries of work and family. With e-mails and mobile phones this is already difficult even when you have an office to go to. When working from home the boundaries can just blur completely. My suggestion to our staff is to try and maintain the normal ‘office’ schedule when working from home. Start your day the way you do, take breaks as you would at work and then stop working at your regular hour. Take the weekend off too. For me, it is also important to have your ‘office’ space at home. I try not to work from any room. I have my dedicated study table – luckily with a good view – and that’s my ‘only’ place of work. Socialising is the other aspect that is very important and is missed while working from home – especially with a lockdown in place. Use technology to meet friends and colleagues, virtually, rather than spending too much time watching the, rather depressing news and Netflix.

It has been just about a week of the lockdown and I have already had evening drinks with my friends – a pretty large gathering of 20 from across India and some even from Singapore and Paris. We also bid a fond farewell to our retiring CFO over drinks with our leadership team. We are into only the first week of the lockdown. Fatigue will set in and we need to guard against it, consciously. We need to stay positive and remember that this too will pass. And if the lockdown does get extended, it is a good opportunity to pursue any passion you have but didn’t have time to pursue. Cooking, learning a language, an instrument to play, yoga, bridge… There are so many online courses to subscribe to.

The view from Rai's work desk at home.
The view from Rai's work desk at home.

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

We are using Microsoft Teams with our employees and certain clients. With others it is Zoom. Times of India and The Economic Times are my go to options for national and business news, both the e-papers as well as the apps.

What do you miss most –and least– about office?

Least is easy – the travel time. Recently our office has moved much further away and I end up spending two and a half hours every day on the road!! A complete waste. What I miss the most? The energy of the office. The social aspect of an office space is also so important. The camaraderie, catching up with the youngsters over a game of pool, having a laugh…

How frequently do you check-in on your team? What’s the ideal frequently, according to you – any theories?

I check in individually with people in my team and also collectively. It is early days so the frequency is higher but it will settle into a routine. For me a once-a-week team catch up is good. And I try not to have the entire team (I have a large leadership team of 20) on the call as it becomes difficult to navigate, so I split it depending on what needs to be discussed. Monday is good for such a meeting. What’s equally important is to have a no-agenda social catch up with the team. Every Friday evening over a drink is good for that.

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?

My biggest takeaway, and something I have always believed in, is that working from home is eminently possible on a regular basis. People have taken to WFH so quickly and so responsibly. I do think we put too much emphasis on people reporting to work while we should be focused on their output. Technology allows for flexible working and this period has amply demonstrated that. Imagine, if we could institute WFH for 50 per cent of our staff on any given day on a regular basis even after this crisis is over, we’d give so much relief to the creaking infrastructure of our cities, reduce pollution, reduce travel and traffic stress…

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