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#FightBackCorona: This situation has a finite time span - Ashish Bhasin

These are extraordinary times and we all are in uncharted territory. There is a lot of fear and negativity in all spheres due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. While the Corona Warriors are doing a tremendous job fighting from the frontlines, we at Adgully are embarking on an endeavour to highlight the positive developments during these challenging times.

Over the next few weeks, Adgully will be featuring a series of brief interactions with industry leaders in India and find out how they are keeping their spirits up as well as keeping their employees motivated, also how they are joining in the fight against the adverse impact of the global pandemic.

Ashish Bhasin, CEO – APAC and Chairman – India, Dentsu Aegis Network, presents a realistic viewpoint of the disruption in people’s lives, business operations, and the economy due to the COVID-19 crisis. He says that while there will be pain for some time, but is also optimistic of coming out of this together, stronger.

What steps are you and your organisation taking to help out the society at large or those engaged in the war against Covid-19?
Wherever possible, we are trying to team up with our clients – a good example is Vivo. All clients have CSR budgets, and this is a good time to use those budgets to do good for society. Options are limited because of the lockdown, but there is still a lot of good that can be done.

We are partnering with our clients both in terms of messaging and in terms of real benefits like masks being given out to people who need it.

This is a time of real anxiety and we are counselling people and providing them support. We have counselling helplines which are not just open to our employees, but also their friends and families. A lot of efforts are happening at a micro level by brands, by teams, in various cities, to meet the different needs, in different parts of the business.

For example, iProspect has opened up its e-learning platform called iProspect Masterclass for professionals in marketing and advertising industry who want to upgrade their skills. We have planned a series of initiatives and are encouraging people to think of them at the team level and brand level to address the real ground needs of the hour.

How are you keeping your employees motivated and are encouraging them to give their best, even as they are working from home?
I think you need to go step by step in this. Safety comes first, even before motivation. We had started work from home before the lockdown officially came into effect. We had initiated temperature checks and sanitisation programmes before the Government announced the lockdown.

The unsung heroes in this situation are actually the IT guys, because for a company like ours, where suddenly 3,500 to 4,000 people suddenly moved to work from home, for the system to run smoothly and people to be able to access their files, folders and communicate via the Internet, you need more VPN licences, more bandwidth, and other systems in place. So, hats off to our IT colleagues, who have made sure that has happened.

The first thing is physical safety and health. The second thing is to ensure that basic infrastructure is provided. And the third thing that leaders should be doing at this time is to communicate. This is the time to communicate more and not less. While we are practicing social distancing, we should also practice virtual proximity. There are anxieties in everybody’s minds, such as will I lose my job?; what is going to happen?; Is this ever going to come back to normal?; which is normal and natural for everybody to feel. Nobody knows the answers to these questions, but if you discuss and talk about it together, then it does help.

At times like these, it helps to be honest and transparent. It doesn’t make sense to paint a picture that is rosier than reality as this event is going to hurt everybody – juniors, seniors, agencies, clients. It is one of those big global events that will hurt everybody. There is going to be pain, but we have to collectively find out the best way to get over it.

We should be aware of the fact that this situation has a finite time span, I don’t know whether it will be one week, one month or one year, but whatever it may be, there WILL be light at the end of this tunnel. You have to keep people focused on the fact that while we will endure pain, when the bounce-back happens, we should come back stronger as individuals and as a company.

What is most needed in challenging times such as these:

(a) From the general public: I think the best thing we can do is follow the instructions that the authorities are giving. These are unprecedented, untested times and everybody is being told that if you stay at home and follow certain norms, then we can flatten the curve and help remove the load from the medical system. Our first and foremost basic duty is to follow this, not just for our sake, but for the sake of our friends and family and everybody else. One person violating these norms is not just hurting himself/ herself, but everybody in contact with them. We’ve seen that one or two people being careless can multiply this virus in geometric progression. Our duty as the public is to follow the guidance given by the state and municipal authorities.

(b) From the authorities: The Government has to understand that there are two aspects to this. First is the damage and health related issues that the virus is causing, but equally because of the lockdown there is tremendous disruption in the industry. We have to figure out a way to ease this so that the system doesn’t collapse under the burden. Liquidity has come to near zero, consumption other than that of essential items has come to near zero, and many are under this mistaken impression that one fine day a switch will be turned on and everything will be back to normal. That’s not going to happen. When the economy starts rolling again, it is going to be a very difficult period. There has to be tax relief, liquidity benefits, reduction in corporate tax rates, money put in the pockets of daily labourers, are the need of the hour to help get things back to normal or it is going to hit us really hard. In the best scenario, assuming we have a really good monsoon which boosts rural demand in India, we will see things returning to normal by the coming Diwali or so. This calendar year is going to be tough and we need government support, particularly in the area of liquidity for businesses to survive.

(c) From business leaders: We have to ensure the safety and well being of our people, because nothing is more important than human life. The second responsibility is to take care of the health of your business. This is a fine line because, on the one hand you have to take care of your staff, on the other, we all have to get together and feel a little pain so that a few people don’t have to feel a lot of pain. This situation is unprecedented and we have to deal with it. There will be cost cuts of every kind, including salary cuts, bonus cuts, increments will go away, and there will be loss of jobs depending on how long this whole thing lasts. As leaders, we have to be true and transparent to our people, give them the whole picture, which involves everybody making some small sacrifice so that we can protect the larger good of the company and larger health of the business. I think people won’t mind participating in this as long as you are honest about the situation. As business leaders, it is our job to be optimistic and see the light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a revival after a period of time and we have to give that assurance to our people. Our key job will be communicating that there will be pain for a short period of time, but in the end we will come out of this together, stronger.


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