Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Viral Diaries

Viral Diaries: "I seriously miss my usual morning rush..."

Chandrahas Panigrahi, CMO and consumer business head, Acer India, tells us how he makes an example out of himself as he leads his teams.

If there was just ONE piece of advice you could give people in the media/marketing business right now, what would that be?

For most brands, the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a difficult time to run ads, no matter the platform. Finding the right messaging can be tricky, and marketers have pulled, or postponed, campaigns that could appear insensitive during this difficult time. As a leader, I would like to give only one piece of advice, that brands must find prospects that will help them build personalised and lasting relationships with their audiences from a safe distance. At the same time, look for innovative, cost-effective and sensitive ways to communicate.

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

As COVID-19 spreads, the demand for social distancing has created a need for businesses to swiftly shift in-office work to virtual work spaces. Hence, it’s important to consider the challenges of getting tasks done from the comfort of your own home, as well as any consequences this might have on the rest of your personal life. Communication and collaboration are an obvious barrier when you and your teammates are working in different locations, but this is one area where we have plenty of apps at our disposal. Tools such as Zoom and Skype work best for us. In fact, Zoom has quickly become a popular option to keep in touch with our colleagues in the midst of social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols. For example, we have a standing 30-minute Zoom meeting in the morning just to chat and check in with one another. The other teams also organise Zoom meetings at the end of the day to chat and recap their days.

We’re working hard to preserve our company culture and replicate an environment that fosters relationships, embrace technology to encourage collaboration, and make sure all new innovations reflect our values. For file sharing, we prefer Google Docs as it makes sharing larger files quite easy. It also allows you to save files to the folder, add new folders, and drag and drop files as if they were all local.

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.

I have always believed that time management is one of the most important skills, both personally and professionally, and is a crucial aspect of life. This practice of mine has really helped me, especially during this time when we are working from the comforts of our home, as we all know that anyone can easily get distracted from work.

So, right now my work-from-home routine starts with waking up early and dedicating some time to workouts and meditation so that I can stay focused and fit throughout the day. Then I set some important tasks for the day and ensure I discuss the same with my team regularly over conference calls. Working from home can also become exhausting at times, so I ensure I take some small breaks to refresh and rejuvenate. Apart from all this, it’s also important to spend some quality time with your family, or pursue some hobbies. As for me, I take some time out and also listen to some interesting TEDx videos.

What do you miss most about office?

I seriously miss my usual morning rush of getting to work, dressing up, saying good morning to everyone at office, and getting my strong coffee to start the day. While we all accept this new normal lifestyle of being in the house for at least the next three weeks, I really miss all of that! On the other hand, I must admit that this extended work-from-home situation feels different from a one-off thing. Having said that, with the threat of COVID-19 being essentially everywhere, there's really no outlet for socialising in person. And we know that as soon as it’s safe for things to get back to normal, all the things that annoyed us about the office will come flooding back, too.

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

Being a leader is never easy. In this current scenario, leaders across the nation, and the world, are facing a new reality - leading their teams from afar. It also means you must adjust your own leadership style as well as how you manage your team in the upcoming weeks, or months. But the good news is that your understanding, combined with your hard effort, perfectly positions you to be a shining example through crisis. Now more than ever, your team needs you to step up and provide much-needed direction, and support. You can be the leader they need, all without stressing yourself out in the process.

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?

As the fight against COVID-19 has increased, the current situation has compelled my team to take a new look at everything, from scheduling meetings, to the ways we manage our teams, and I have heard from many customers doing the same. During difficult situations, we often are so focused on alleviating the crisis that we overlook the important lessons we've learned along the way that are, likely, relevant in the long-term, too. I wanted to share with you two important things we have discovered so far as a completely remote team.

Practice management skills: Employees rely on their managers, we need to show inquisitiveness to help them solve the problem. Every day is a learning day, and we are constantly learning about managing remotely. Every employee confronts unique challenges right now, and every employee approaches this situation differently. As managers, it’s so important to try to understand and react to their individual needs as much as possible.

Continue driving team culture: For as long as the concept of work has existed, culture has been created as a result of an ongoing, often indirect, negotiation between people sharing a real environment about how they prefer to co-exist. At Acer, since the beginning, we have emphasised on creating a culture we love, and enjoy working in. Now, as we are working remotely, this same ethos has continued as we’ve moved our entire team online. I believe culture must go beyond the physical workplace. Most importantly, we have flexible and agile teams that are comfortable with ambiguity. This is proving to be an amazing asset.

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.