We come across numerous conversations on social media and otherwise today, on the way COVD-19 is shaping our lives. Recently, these have started to illustrate how the landscape has shifted for organisations, brand communicators and the general people.
The virtual talk on Conversations for a better tomorrow got down to discussing the changes that have swept through the corporate landscape, as Deepak Jolly, Founder, Consocia Advisory, moderated the interaction between Abanti Sankaranarayanan, Chief Strategy & Corporate Affairs Officer, Diageo India and Harit Nagpal, MD & CEO, Tata Sky.
Down memory lane
The hard reality of the pandemic had got entwined into our day-to-day world. A fact that Deepak pointed out, to take the participants down memory lane. So, the talk first retraced early learnings in life, when things were different and happy. Abanti recalled her growing up days when it was “the simple pleasures of life” that got appreciated when life was simple and focused; she was “seeking excellence for its own sake and wanting to be the best”. The “wonder years” meant growing up with restrained resources, but it “gave us the power of observation” as Harit put it. There was no social media nor the wide range of entertainment options then. He recalled the time, when there were no tweets to instantly grab attention, but he managed to put up messaging on time through banners (which were printed overnight with the latest cricket update and so on). These resonated with the immediacy of the situation and grabbed attention all along the way they were lined up. “That was our Twitter!” he said.
Memories shared by Abanti were when she at her first job, as Brand Manager Tata Tea Premium involved the sheer learnings (through observation and conversation) via market visits. The amount of insights picked up those days added fun and interest to the job, she added. Handling the same product – tea, coffee and water in India and UK, she realised early in life that the same product has to be marketed differently. “Though I spent 18 years in the company, I never felt bored or jaded and I grew up a lot! And, that also sits well for the second half of your career,” she elaborated.
Today, Diageo India is a leading alcohol beverage company, and Abanti had set herself the task of transforming the alcohol industry. Admitting that the onus was on them to not just shape the industry but also consumption habits, she pointed out that responsible drinking is at the heart of what we do at Diageo. “We genuinely believe that alcohol has to be enjoyed in moderation in a balanced lifestyle”, she said.
In India we are a long distance away from recognition of moderation in drinking. Don’t we remember the scenes when liquor shops opened in green and orange zones after forty days of lockdown and people threw caution and “social distancing” to the winds and doubled up to form lines that ran into kilometers. Many states realised that opening the shops was not very practical to keep a pandemic at bay! If you have to have a sustainable industry, you have to take the bull by the horns! At a personal level, being a parent she felt that it’s important to help other parents who may have underage kids who may have taken up drinking. So, responsible consumption is personal for her and not just a corporate affair.
The pandemic’s long-term effect on corporate culture?
How will work culture evolve? We have accepted WFH now. According to Abanti, it’s been moving away from face-time culture, and everyone has learnt the benefits of breaking hierarchical structure, faster decision-making and collaborative action. It is firmly established that you don’t have to be in office to show commitment, as you can do that from home. Echoing her thought was Harit who felt we have moved ahead of the hierarchical culture that we had inherited, and the fact that we can handle larger teams is clear now and more technology will be used too.
The changed work life pattern is here to stay. WFM has been accepted now. “It’s been three months since we have gone to office and the business has not missed a beat!” observed Harit. Telecom had been invented a decade ago, but everyone continued going to office, and that has changed. To be able to work ‘remote’ you require to – lessen the layers, it has to be a collaborative culture, there has to be informal ways of making decisions and there should be empowerment at every level and “Empowerment makes you agile”, he revealed. These are a few things that companies need to adopt to stay agile and handle volatile situations
Pandemics hit the world every hundred years and COVID-19 was totally unprecedented, but we are learning to live with it. Personally Abanti has learnt to handle a less busy, simple uncluttered life, but she does miss the human connection. How much do you need to live happily? The answer is clear – you don’t need much! What’s really important is the time she is spending with her family, which is priceless! At the professional level, we have realised that we can be super productive on Zoom. They made huge efforts on communication, internal events (antakshari, Bollywood quiz etc) and the results of an employee survey they conducted on the effect of the lockdown, threw up “mind-blowing results”! “If a company has put efforts to create a culture, at times like this, it comes to the fore,” expressed Abanti.
Deepak also added that he has taken time out to write a column, as he realised that he had so much to tell. But newspapers had gone out of fashion and we have pdfs now. Harit noted that if you practice anything for 1000 hours, it becomes a habit and this lockdown is more than that. But something will stick, and will accelerate our movement towards these areas – like concern for the environment, health and well-being, and giving.
As a lady, Abanti highlighted the fact the relevance of classical feminine traits that has come upfront – like empathy and emotion. These have been required in good doses in all organizations and these are here to stay! “We will embrace vulnerability as we have seen the biggest leaders brought to their knees,” she noted. The disparity between the privileged and underprivileged was always there, but now it has come up in your face, felt Harit. How to bridge the gap? This movement is likely to be accelerated.
How will spends bounce back?
Quoting the Vodafone campaign and the spends involved, Deepak brought up the issue of how will people get back to spending, after this passes. About the challenges marketers will face, Harit insisted that “things will change”. In the long-term, it will evolve and come back, but not at the same level that it was. But Abanti had a word of caution – “We feel there’s reason to be cautious and wary about spending”.
How will the earlier work pattern come back? Harit said he sees “a hybrid model” emerging, for we need the social contact to survive. For a better tomorrow, he predicted nothing and yet there was no reason to believe things will not get better! While Abanti felt in the long-term, we will be fine, but the short-term may be difficult.
Learnings from the lockdown
Harit: Focus on health, wellness and family
Abanti: You can be as productive while following WFH. At a personal level – I miss wearing my sarees to work!!
We learnt it the hard way, disclosed Deepak, as he signed off with the old Hindi saying: “Kal Kare So Aaj Kar, Aaj Kare So Ub Pal Mein Pralaya Hoyegi…”