Lockdown Lessons: “Life can be traversed entirely with just 4 T-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts”
India is just emerging out of an over two-month long lockdown – a period that has changed our lives, behaviours and the way we conduct business forever. The lessons that we have learnt during the lockdown period and our experiences during the year so far, will help us navigate a world that we had never imagined. It has been a trying time for many of us, with everyone working from home and having to adapt to a new way of working and living. Adgully’s latest endeavour – Lockdown Lessons – is an attempt to present the key learnings that India’s business honchos have learnt and imbibed, and which can help the industry navigate the new normal better.
In this interaction with Adgully, Vineet Bajpai, Founder & CEO, Magnon Group, presents a lively picture of his Lockdown experiences, how he has been able to successfully achieve a work-life balance, how he and his team have been able to maintain business efficiencies while working with Fortune 500 global brands, among others.
What are the key lockdown lessons as a professional during the lockdown period?
There is no doubt that the lockdown has summarily transformed the way we live and work. The manner in which we have started doing everything – whether it is buying groceries or convening the most important client meetings over digital platforms – we could well be in an episode from ‘Star Trek’! As CEO and leader of an organisation with 300+ fine professionals spread pan-India, the change has been even more pronounced. It was within days of working from home that I realised... we were going to have to reinvent everything, starting with ourselves.
First things first, I must share that we set up an internal team to keep abreast of the situation, strategise and formulate contingency plans way ahead of the nation-wide lockdown. This gave us extra time and good headstart for a smooth and efficient transition. We actually implemented WFH one week before the Honorable PM’s announcement. So, I’d say that promptness of planning and speedy execution helped us immensely.
However, such radical change for so many people from so many cities was not easy to envision, and even more difficult to execute.
But here is where the learnings began to come rumbling in! The first take-away for me from this extraordinary time and this novel working model has been pure adulation for the power of human will and human adaptability. The zeal and alacrity with which our teams aligned their working days and working styles to this new reality were nothing less than inspiring. Meetings were equally passionate and effective over video-conferences as they would have been in physical board rooms. Client work deliveries did not suffer even by an iota. Working hours actually grew, as our people saved time on traffic and commute. Why, we even celebrated good weeks with a beer together over video hangouts on Saturday nights!
Please tell us some of the key takeaways in terms of life lessons from the lockdown period?
When you have time with yourself without much face to face interaction with too many people, you can’t help but introspect about what really matters – both inwards and outwards. When I looked outwards, I realised that the pain and suffering of those you do not even know can feel like your own pain. Whether it was the plight of the migrant workers or the disturbing news of people losing jobs and livelihoods all over the world, something hurt deep inside. And, when I looked inward, I realised that life can be traversed entirely with just four T-shirts, two pairs of shorts, and one set of pyjamas. All the fancy cars & colognes, scotches & watches – all of those are gathering dust, as no one is around to see them! It is now that one realises that those things were perhaps not purchased for your own happiness in the first place, you see?
Secondly, a renewed sense of respect for routine, which includes quality time with family, has emerged from this new way of life. We all started out on our career journeys to find joy for ourselves and our loved ones, but somewhere on the way we seem to have lost perspective. This new WFH universe has reminded us that nothing compares to the joy of watching your daughter rolling off the bed laughing, watching ‘Andaz Apna Apna’, a movie you recommened to her! So, as a family we are working harder than before, delivering on our professional and educational duties, and yet enjoying every meal together. It’s like it is all coming together just the way it was meant to.
How did you manage and achieve work-life balance while working from home?
To be honest, achieving this balance was hard in the beginning. Moreover, I don’t really resonate with all those people I see sharing lists of movies and shows to binge watch on OTT platforms while in lockdown. I spend most of the lockdown days blazing through the hours with not a minute to spare. Client calls, video conferences, daily and weekly team reports, hundreds of emails, and catching up with the eg+ network’s worldwide leaders. But, I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. Decades from now, when an inquisitive wide-eyed child asks what we were doing when the COVID-19 onslaught had hit the world, what will we say? That we were watching movies?!
However, a nice balance slowly found itself, where I was spending 10 hours a day with my work, but then also watching web-series’ episodes with the family late into the night. I was preparing presentations during the week days, but got down to cooking (mindblowing) chicken biryani and Bengali fish curries on Sundays. As I would hold Townhall meetings for all 300+ of us, I would end up re-tuning my guitar after ages. Therefore, it might make sense to say that a work-life balance found me, instead of vice versa.
It has been more than two months since the lockdown was enforced. How are you gearing up for back to office mode?
At this time, we have decided to extend our WFH period. Fortunately, given that a signnificant part of our work is delivered digitally, we are not under pressure to call our teams back to offices. Magnon works with several Fortune 500 global brands as clients, and our client teams have been exceptionally supportive and cooperative. We are closely connected with all of them via various digital communication platforms. Our internal meetings are sharply focused on ensuring highest levels of service and quality to our clients, across all our three agencies – creative production & marketing solutions outsourcing labs; advertising & digital agency; linguistics & cultural consulting arm.
Of course, this cannot be a permanent way of operating. Physical vicinity and face to face coordination are critical to a sense of being a team and to drive collective excellence as a cohesive unit. We are watching the situation closely and will be back into our offices with extensive precautionary protocols for our people’s safety. Our parent companies – eg+ worldwide and Omnicom – have also shared robust guidelines for the wellness of our teams and clients. We will adhere to those best-practices with deepest sincerity.
Any lessons that you picked up in financial management from the lockdown period?
This has been perhaps the greatest challenge for companies and households the world over. Once again, this compels me to raise both my hands in veneration for Team Magnon. Even in these extraordinary times, the team has kept our business going and our annual goals intact. An equal measure of gratutude is due to all our wonderful clients, who have gone out of their way to keep productivity kicking. Of course, we have left no stone unturned to curtail all non-essential costs and optimise every dollar that we spend.
As a result of the combined impact of all the above, we have been able to see this difficult time through without any downsizing or furloughs or pay-cuts. We hope to sustain this excellence on both revenue and cost sides as we progress further into this year of historical proportions.