The coronavirus pandemic has turned our lives upside down. Both at work and at home. Many of us ditched habits built over a lifetime because of the lockdown—and adopted new habits instead.
As offices gear up to reopen after two months of lockdown, we asked some of our faculty about the new habits they’ve adopted during this period. More specifically, which of Harappa’s five Habits—Lead, Solve, Collaborate, Think, Communicate—did they rely on most during the lockdown? And will they stick to the new habits after the lockdown? You can read our first blog in the series here.
In the second of our faculty interviews, Harappa’s Curriculum Team Senior Specialist Nishant Singh speaks to Srikant Sastri, an academic and entrepreneur who wears many hats. The chairman of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, co-founder of Crayon Data, and chairman of I3G Advisory Network talks about the importance of honing the Collaborate Habit in these WFH times to be better equipped to deal with tomorrow’s world. Read on for more:
Q: What is the one Harappa Habit—Think, Solve, Communicate, Collaborate, Lead—you relied most on in this lockdown?
In some measure, I’ve used every Harappa Habit to the limit during the lockdown. I typically work on three-four challenging projects at any point in time, and their success often requires some face-to-face interactions with other people. So I had to find ways to ensure that the projects not just stayed alive and active, but also succeeded like in normal times. I had to think harder, solve better, communicate differently, and do a superlative job of collaborating. But if I had to pick that one Harappa Habit that made all the difference during this period, it would be the Lead Habit.
I volunteered to co-lead an exciting COVID-19 initiative to make high-quality ventilators available to the country within six-eight weeks. In doing so, I rediscovered my purpose. Each task force member, an expert in his/her own field, had to bring excellence to play so that we could collectively build a world-class ventilator in record time, and at a time when the country needed them.
Q: What one Habit would you recommend young professionals should hone during this period and why?
The Collaborate Habit would be at the top of my recommendations list. Teamwork and collaboration is not easy for many people even in normal times. It becomes doubly hard while working remotely, and without those informal water-cooler or coffee conversations. If a young professional is leading a team, being able to get the group to work together without those routine pats on the back, or smiles does pose a challenge. For those who are self-employed, e.g. consultants or film producers, being able to collaborate with clients or partners is hard. Unlike the West, India has always been a country where face-to-face discussions have been considered important. By honing their Collaborate Habit in these WFH times, young professionals will be better equipped to deal with tomorrow’s world.
Q: What are the three good professional skills that you've adopted in this phase?
My family and friends often pull my leg saying that I am wedded to my calendar. This is fairly true! However, in this phase, I moved up from being a good calendar manager to a very good calendar manager, thereby packing in a lot more into each day.
I learned to lead and work with cross-disciplinary teams that cut across age groups from 23 to 75, and across geographies. I got a good exposure to how governments and PSUs work.
Q: What is the one most exciting change in this period for you professionally?
The most exciting change for me during this period was that I got a ringside view of two high-growth sectors—MedTech and EdTech. The pandemic is a tipping point for both sectors, and I was fortunate to be involved in exciting initiatives in each case. In MedTech, I was deeply involved in the idea-to-market progression of the ventilator project. Likewise, in EdTech, it was great to be part of a high-energy team at Harappa that was focused on a B2C market for the first time.
Q: There is a lot of focus on lifelong learning, unlearning and relearning in the world of work today. What would you say have been the top learnings for you in this period? And what have you unlearned and had to relearn/adapt?
It’s never too late to learn something new and substantial; I learned a lot about MedTech. Expertise and passion trumps age. I was fascinated to see 70-plus industry veterans keenly learning from 20-something start-up founders.
I’ve been used to WFH since 2018 when I returned from the US and got involved in multiple projects. However, in the past, WFH was interspersed with one-two days of travel each week, as well as social engagements. During the lockdown I had to adapt myself to never-ending WFH and non-existent social engagements.
I have always been comfortable collaborating within teams, and especially a team of young people. For nearly the first time, I had to collaborate simultaneously with people 30 years younger, 15 years older, and some my age.
Q: Did you have any specific setback while working from home? If so, what was it, and how have you overcome it?
Lockdowns 1.0-3.0 were all hunky-dory. We had help at home, and I worked maniacally 16+hours per day. As Lockdown 3.0 ended, our domestic help went home to their village in Uttarakhand. With just me and my wife at home, I would set aside part of my time each day for household work. My calendar just got a bit more complicated. It now had items like, “Make morning tea”, “Lay the table/clear the table”, “Do the dishes”, and “Weekly laundry”.
Q: What are some of the big changes your organization has made during the lockdown?
I am on the board of several mid-sized organizations in India and Singapore. Of course, they all moved to a WFH model. That apart, they have all seen a revenue drop as well. Given the uncertainty about the global and domestic economic outlook, they have either discussed pay cuts with their employees, or in some cases downsized their organizations.
Under Harappa's Collaborate habit, you may want to check out our Managing Teamwork course and learn to build professional relationships at the workplace. Explore our Online Learning Courses and begin your journey towards professional success.
Srikant Sastri was interviewed by Nishant Singh who is a Senior Specialist in the Curriculum Team at Harappa Education.
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