‘Work From Home’ to be new normal in post COVID era: Sindhu Gangadharan

Sindhu Gangadharan, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, SAP Labs India

To curb the menace of COVID-19 pandemic is one of the major challenges for the governments worldwide and somehow technology has posed as an effective tool to tackle the crisis. Apart from being an enabler for the governments, technology has been helping the private firms to surf through the drooping economy and business due to the lockdowns. To sustain the crisis, ‘Work From Home’ is a new culture that the corporate world has adopted and companies have been gearing up with advanced tech, collaboration tools, and more to make remote working as productive as the regular office. The pandemic has certainly given an opportunity for the firms to make the remote working a new normal in the post COVID scenario. Talking on the subject and highlighting how tech will be a game-changer in the post COVID scenario, Sindhu Gangadharan, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, SAP Labs India interacts with Elets Technomedia in an email interview edited by Adarsh Som of Elets News Network.

Due to the lockdown, people are moving to online platforms. So, is video conferencing the new-gen work scenario? Can virtual coworking be a perfect replacement of the traditional office environment?

The industry is adapting to the new normal of remote working and companies have re-aligned their infrastructure to enable their employees to acclimatize to the situation. In the current scenario and to prepare for the future of work, online collaboration tools and video conference platforms is the perfect solution. I believe this culture will continue in the post COVID economy as companies will already be equipped to manage a virtual environment. Many industries, for example, the IT industry operating in crowded metros, might notice that a work from home leads to higher productivity as it reduces long commute hours and provides a better work-life balance for employees. While virtual coworking may not completely replace the traditional office environment, businesses will better understand the benefits of remote working, and will likely be open to adopting a mix of office-based and remote work more fluidly. This flexible approach to remote work also becomes popular in expanding the gig economy where employees are hired as and when required, in accordance with the market demands.

Do you think such technology like collaborative tools is the new business area where investors should invest, and startups should focus? Or, is it a temporary thing which will see a drop once the situation returns to normalcy?

Innovation and investment in collaborative tools and solutions is not new, but there has been an increase in demand. The need for these tools was always there, but the specifications have evolved. Today, the requirement is for a more secure platform which doesn’t compromise sensitive information and can accommodate a larger number of people without compromising on the quality. As many companies move to a virtual setup and business models becoming more agile, technology will be a game-changer. Going forward, there will be more innovations in the way we deploy technologies – be it artificial intelligence, machine learning or IoT solutions. Startups need to keep an eye on these new areas of growth and opportunities.

Large organizations can sustain themselves in this crisis but startups and MSMEs may face difficulty in survival due to COVID- 19. What would you like to advise these aspiring startups and entrepreneurs who have just started?

There is a reason why startups sustain through testing situations; it is their ability to mix innovation and creativity to come up with cutting-edge tools, and their agility to adapt to new business situations. Startups too are witnessing the consequences of the pandemic with low cash flow, bleak sales pipeline and the pressure to retain talented resources. However, those that manage to sustain will benefit once the crisis blows over. My advice to startups and upcoming entrepreneurs during this time is to be positive, boost the morale of the employees, and be mindful of their spending. Times are tough for everyone. For companies or individuals, there is no guarantee of success or an obstacle-free path, we need to do what’s in our control to the best of abilities and things will fall in place eventually.

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For the startups in these challenging times, Marketing and communications become the source of optimism for the entire organization. It is important that startups understand this and activate their marketing and communication engine to the maximum and carry out effective positioning of the brand through thought leadership articles, hosting webinars or podcasts across the digital mediums. Client listening and client nurturing are two aspects that organizations of different size and form are exploring and startups should adopt the same to stay relevant during, and the post-COVID times.

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How are you engaging with your employees in this difficult situation? Do we foresee budget cuts, layoffs in future?

SAP has always fostered a flexible work culture and hence this situation which has mandated work from home is not new to our employees. At SAP, we use the best collaboration tools to provide ease of remote working through applications for communication and group work. We are constantly communicating with our employees via emails, video calls, conducting virtual fun and well-being programs and group sessions to keep their mood positive. Globally, employees are engaged and are sharing recommendations on how to work from home effectively. We have also introduced SAP Come Alive initiative which delivers online fun, wellness and motivational programs – ranging from Zumba, Yoga to virtual music contest. Employees are chatting regularly with virtual coffee sessions and are also participating in volunteering programs. Recently, we have also announced a new digital learning initiative offering innovative, interactive educational content to support students, professionals and anyone wishing to continue to learn during this challenging time. The award-winning open SAP platform provides massive open online courses (MOOCs) to anyone interested in learning about leading technologies, the latest innovations and the digital economy. We put employees at the centre of everything we do, we hold our valued employees in our hearts. We are fully committed to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our employees. This is our top priority in order to maintain the business continuity needed to provide the support and service for the customers who rely on SAP.

What will be your message to the fellow citizens?

COVID-19 in a rapid time has shaken the society, shifted the pattern of our social interactions and behaviours and created several new norms that will stay with us for a long time.  In times like this there is always a tendency to magnify negativity and highlight sufferings.  It is therefore very important that each of us try and focus more on news about human resilience and positivity, stay strong, calm and innovative. Always look at the bright side of any situation. There are a lot of sad stories out there, but there are an equal number of positive stories and news which we need to pay a lot more attention to them. Also, this is the most appropriate time for us to collaborate and support each other. Lend a helping hand wherever possible. There are several out there who need our help. Be patient, proactive, responsive and educate people around healthy habits and the importance of staying home. Collective and immediate action is the need of the hour and it is critical for everyone to step forward and help the ecosystem as much as they can during this time of crisis.