On March 24, our Prime Minister announced complete lockdown in the country for 21 days. At that time, it was difficult to fathom what it actually entailed and how it would work. Coming from the old school, I had never believed in the concept of ‘work from home’, and it was hard for me to digest that entire workforces could actually operate from home.
Accepting the new normal
We embraced remote working, albeit with some apprehensions. Gradually, we got used to the virtual HR meetings every morning – sharing our deliverables and engagement plan for our respective teams and businesses. Meetings with teams and various stakeholders also shifted to the online mode. As we started getting a hang of things, it became part of our routine. It was pleasantly surprising to see how we all took to this new way of working.
Perhaps these virtual meeting/conferences were a blessing in disguise. Earlier, we had to travel to attend conferences, and there were occasions when the sheer thought of the traffic situation in NCR made us drop the idea of attending these conferences. Now, we can attend them from the comfort of our home offices. Having personally attended conferences where our CEO and CHRO were speakers, I can vouch for the experience. It is always enriching to pick the brains of such industry stalwarts.
Optimising operating costs
When the complete lockdown was extended, it spelled doom for the travel and tourism industry. Along with other organisations in the same space, we were severely impacted. To sail through this difficult time, we had to take a few tough calls to optimise the operating cost. We became cautious of our cost structure and spending. Having weathered many storms earlier, we were confident of an opportunity to bounce back and score big.
Priorities changed for HR, and for the right reasons. With cost optimisation being the focus, I found myself and the compensation team in the thick of things. The pandemic presented us with the opportunity to work on areas that we would have otherwise not been exposed to.
We were busy crunching numbers and trying various simulations to come up with the best way to manage the manpower budget and also forecast the budget for the year. We had to come up with innovative solutions to ring fence our top talent across the organisation. We were continuously in touch with HR professionals from other companies to understand their thought processes and approaches. Though we had to skip the salary appraisal process this year, the salary revision exercise was undertaken as we had to take a call on reducing salaries to manage cost. This reduction happened only for middle and senior management. Our frontline workforce was not impacted at all.
Learning and developing
Personally, apart from my work in compensation, the pandemic gave me the opportunity to work closely with other verticals, such as the recruitment and audit teams. Also, it allowed me the time to reflect and work on self-improvement basis the constructive feedback I received in the past. I am sure my other colleagues in the organisation will also echo the same sentiments.
Taking tough calls
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it was very unfortunate that we had to let go some of our team members. It was the most difficult decision to make. The entire HR team sprang into action along with the business teams. A special task force was created, comprising C&B, HR ops, HRBPs and even recruiters. This team ensured that all the difficult conversations are handled in the most humane and mature manner. As an organisation, we ensured transparent communication to avoid any ambiguity whatsoever. Apart from timely payouts of their dues we also extended benefits to them and their families during these difficult times. Many may not be aware that Deep Kalra, founder and group executive chairman, and Rajesh Magow, co-founder & group CEO, gave additional amounts from in their personal capacity, to each and every employee who had spent a decade with the organisation and were let go. A dedicated placement helpdesk was set up to facilitate their placement with other organisations, and it was quite successful.
Believing in leadership
As part of a few discussion around cost optimisation, I worked very closely with our CHRO and was even part of some meetings with the Group CEO. The way our leadership thinks and acts makes go-MMT a class organisation. Yes, there have been salary reductions. Yes, few of our employees were let go. However, considering that our revenue was almost down to zero during lockdown, we could have been forced to let go half of our workforce, just as many other companies have done. Salary reductions could have been steeper than what we faced. At a time when few companies in our space are on the brink of closure, here we are gearing up to recover and bounce back.
Innovating and grabbing opportunities
We have always believed that our employees are our biggest asset, and this belief has paid dividends. During the lockdown, teams have picked various critical projects and few new lines of business have also emerged. This only shows that innovations are happening in the organisation and their execution are of the highest standard.
In the stock market, quality of management is one of the key parameters to assess and value the business. With my utmost confidence in Go-MMT’s top-notch quality of management, I can put all my money on MMYT. With this strong leadership team it is just a matter of time before we start breaching the highest number of transactions, we used to do across all our LOBs. Even as I write, our business has started recovering and we have now restored salaries for all our employees.
One of the challenges the new-age e-commerce industry has been grappling with for quite some time now is talent retention, especially in the technology team. To my surprise, this challenge persists even during the pandemic. Though resignations are low as compared to last year, considering the ongoing pandemic and related restrictions, and the fact that most companies have put their hiring plan on the back burner, this is rather alarming. The trend is being witnessed across all key players in the e-commerce space.
Our focus has been on employee well-being and learning during this period. The HR team has left no stone unturned to reach out to each employee and help them be more engaged and productive while working from home.
Appreciating the positives
On the personal front, one cannot complain when one is confined to the house with the loved ones. My colleagues with young children are having a wonderful time seeing their kids grow and enjoying their antics. The pandemic has helped create beautiful memories of togetherness, which will be cherished by all. While we have all been aware of the importance of the family, this phase endorsed the fact that life is fragile and our family members are our biggest strength.
I firmly believe that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and therefore, it is important to invest in oneself. The lockdown put a halt to all outdoor activities. Sports has always been a part of my life and I really missed the cricket matches with my go-MMT cricket team. However, the work-from-home arrangement saved a lot of time that would otherwise have been spent on commuting. We were able to spare some time to engage in physicals activities, such as Yoga, workouts, etc. Now that restrictions have been eased, I see lot of my colleagues picking up new hobbies.
Is this new normal here to stay? Will we get back to our pre-Covid routines once we have the vaccine? It is too early to answer these questions. However, the truth is that this has been a life- changing phase for all of us. It altered the very way we think and operate in every aspect of life. Hopefully, this will remain a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
(The author, Sunil Bahuguna, is the director – compensation & benefits, at Go-MMT)