Lockdown Lessons: Life’s a series of curve balls - Atul Sharma

Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India
Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India

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.

Also read: Lockdown Lessons: “Optimise what you have, don’t take anything for granted”

In conversation with Adgully, Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India, speaks about how the lockdown has been a period of immense learnings and a time for taking stock of the company’s infrastructure contracts and right sized them to create win-win solutions for Ruder Finn and its partners.

What are the key lockdown lessons as a professional during the lockdown period?

In times of such uncertainly, here are some of the lessons we’ve learnt as communication professionals.

  1. Trust your workforce: The beautiful thing about responsibility is that the more you give, the more surprised you’d be with the results. Through the lockdown, we’ve put immense trust in our people, believed in their integrity. So, where they work from – be it home or office – becomes inconsequential.
  2. Be empathetic, and it shall be matched: We were empathetic towards them, and we learnt that they shared the empathy with the less fortunate. Our employees across offices came together to donate a day’s salaries to donate PPE kits to front line workers, and as an organisation we followed suit, matching their efforts.
  3. Power of One Ruder Finn: Ruder Finn has four offices – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The pandemic has converted these brick and mortar locations into geolocations connected fiercely through technology. Being a firm that’s traditionally known to bank on technology, we seized the moment and utilised the opportunity to bring everyone together on equal footing. As a result, we came together as a firm with a common purpose, goal and vision. Today, we’re significantly closer and stronger as a team, where every team member has a personal rapport with everybody across different offices. 

Please tell us some of the key takeaways in terms of life lessons from the lockdown period?

  1. Life’s a series of curve balls: As I mentioned before, one of the greatest life lessons coming out of this pandemic is putting your trust, faith and belief behind people; and they end up doing far better work than you expected! Despite the lockdown, we leveraged technology to pull off some fantastic campaigns like relaunching Disney+ Hotstar and organising the first ever-virtual H.O.G. Rally for Harley-Davidson. These also gave us the opportunity to learn and understand challenges from a client’s perspective.
  2. We’re in this together: Clients, too, are wading through rough waters and it is important to understand that everyone’s trying to maintain business continuity to the best of their ability. We understood that businesses are interconnected and get affected the same way. During the lockdown, we extended unconditional support to our partners and decided to stand by them in every possible way. More importantly, understanding their predicament to take a rain check on their communications strategies and reintroduce crisis preparedness into their new plans. Overall, we addressed our partners’ fears and decided to walk beside them together every step of the way.
  3. Transparency is paramount: As communications specialists, our response in times like these is crucial. Be it for clients or our colleagues, one of the biggest lessons that came through was to uphold our transparent values. Keeping the channels of communications open to dispel fear and uncertainty, can go a long way in maintaining sanity in these unprecedented times. At Ruder Finn, we switched the monthly townhalls into bi-weekly fun meeting sessions with a generous dose of games and entertainment for our colleagues. Through revamped internal communications, we introduced several employee-led campaigns like AMAs, WFH surveys and digital series to address our people’s concerns.

How did you manage and achieve work-life balance while working from home?

Working remotely and juggling home responsibilities can get taxing. We encouraged our colleagues to stick to working hours and give themselves enough and more time to unwind.

Whether it was through fitness sessions or starting virtual books clubs, at Ruder Finn we take our off time just as seriously as our work. Replacing the office environment, we leveraged technology to the fullest, taking meetings, townhalls, learning and training sessions to Zoom. We created the #CelebratingMeTime Campaign, wherein managers were encouraged to take leaves and pass on the same within their teams. When high pressure jobs get aggravated by a pandemic, it’s essential to impose mandatory breaks, so that people can destress and enjoy some much-needed off time. Apart from this, God forbid if any of our employees test positive for the virus, we have tweaked our leave and financial assistance policies to make sure that they are not weighed down by medical or financial constraints.

It has been more than two months since the lockdown was enforced. How are you gearing up for back to office mode?

As India gets comfortable with the new normal, we’ve decided to start by reopening the Ruder Finn’s Gurugram headquarters starting August 1. This is being done in compliance with the government’s guidelines of having a manpower strength of 33 per cent. Not throwing caution to the winds just yet, all necessary precautions are being taken to ensure utmost safety of our colleagues. Our office has undergone a thorough sanitisation routine, complete with hand sanitisers and masks at everyone’s disposal. The seating has been rearranged keeping social distancing norms in mind.

Additionally, the prerogative to join back work lies entirely in the hand of our associates and of their free will. Special concessions are being given to employees with aged parents/ family and young children. We’ve requested our colleagues to avoid using public transport and only use personal transportation.

Any lessons that you picked up in financial management from the lockdown period?

Covid-19 has cast its shadow over all businesses and everyone has been impacted by it. At this stage, everyone is trying their best to keep businesses viable. We’ve used this time to tighten the ship, renegotiated contracts to run a faster and more agile system. We took stock of our infrastructure contracts and right sized them to create win-win solutions for us and our partners.


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