Does WFH Work For Start-Ups?
A little virus came into our lives in late 2019 and turned the whole wide world on its head. Lockdowns became a norm for all countries and after the shock of being ‘locked up’ at home, businesses soon got their act together. As did start-ups. It is now almost two years since we have faced intermittent lockdowns and lived with a new normal – Work From Home (WFH)
Everyone saw the positive side of this new way of working. It saves money in terms of office rent, power, saves time as employees didn’t have to trudge their way to work, and generally was seen as a better way of running a business. The romance with WFH got deeper, as large companies announced that they would adopt this as the norm even after the pandemic died its own death and have a small percentage of staff working from the office.
So, what was the WFH like for start-ups? Did it help their business? Did the savings add to their bottom lines? How did this work out for them? Our members share their experiences:
Utsav Mittal, founder, Xiarchco:
We are a cybersecurity services company and even before the pandemic, we had systems in place to work remotely. We collaborated using the Zoho suite, mostly with our tech teams. However, though our tech teams worked with clients, we did meet regularly in the office. But with the lockdowns, our tech guys WFH and HR and finance worked from the office. While business dried up for many companies, we were lucky that we were cash flow positive and already had done our first round of funding. It is only recently that we discovered the glitches of WFH. I found out that we had a huge communication gap that impacted business – like a Rs. 2 Cr worth project delivery was pending. Invoices were not getting raised. I think our teams were disconnected in some way, which is why we had gaps in our communication. I suppose we need better processes in place to keep track of productivity. If you are 10 people company, everyone knows everything. But with 40 people, the story changes. Earlier we used to meet three to four times a week. Now it was virtual, and virtual cannot replace physical totally. The sum total of our experience with WFH is that there was a disconnect between teams, no performance monitoring was in place, and we had negative employee retention – we lost 10 employees despite an average increment of 35% last year. Even with the costs of running an office, I think it is better because it results in better productivity.
Madhavi Jadhav, co-founder, ThatMate
Well, we started our company during the pandemic, so work was from home for us. But I think when you physically meet a person, there are no communication gaps, whereas with virtual meetings it is possible to miss certain bits that come naturally in a face-to-face meeting. While this pandemic has forced companies to adopt WFH, I think there are a few issues that have to be dealt with. For people with kids, the line between personal and professional has been erased, making it more difficult for them. Moreover, I think office discussions matter. What you can discuss with your colleague in the office, you cannot with your family. In the long term, I think perhaps we should shift to work fewer days at the office, maybe three to four and the rest at home. I would prefer to work from the office, surely.
Ravi Raj: co-founder, Skillaroo
Our entire product development happened during the pandemic, so we all worked from home. The good part of this was that we could build a team based out of anywhere in the world, literally. So I have a fantastic content writer who lives in Ireland, and of the 10 of us only four are based in Pune. So WFH makes it possible to get great talent as location is not an issue. But for a start-up it is important that you are quick and nimble in your responses, you can adapt very easily and working remotely makes that a bit difficult. The alignment that a start-up needs is not up to the mark with WFH employees. So, on a scale of one to ten, I’d put WFH at a four. We are waiting to work from the office as soon as the situation permits. Even if it means more expenses in terms of office etc, it would still be worth it because you can get your team all rowing your start-up boat with perfect synchronicity. The speed of execution, brainstorming, learning all get accelerated when you are in person. I would definitely not mind spending more money on office rent, lunches, the team meets etc. to get these advantages.
Sandeep Khode, co-founder and CTO Merren.
We have been in the WFH mode for almost two years now and as a co-founder and CTO I think it is very difficult to get productivity out of people in such circumstances. If an employee is highly motivated, then he will deliver, but if he is not, then you cannot find out unless and until the time of his deliverables comes up. In fact, I had also installed software to keep track of the work done by our employees, and often we found that they’d spend time on their laptop but playing games instead. In the days when people went to the office to work, there’d be very few and real reasons for not turning up at work – illness, or a family member falling ill. But now even the excuses they make are unbelievable. No electricity for hours on end in Pune or Mumbai is hard to believe. Then integrity is an issue. Often the junior developers will do something else rather than do the work they are paid for. Communication is also a big issue in this WFH scenario. There are communication gaps, team bonding is almost absent and everything now is transactional. Sometimes you feel like a postman delivering messages from here to there. Office relationships do count for a lot and often help you solve problems. Personally, I don’t like to mix the personal with the professional, and very soon we plan to get back to the office. We are in fact willing to offer more amenities, spend more. These expenses are no big deal if you compare it to the benefits a company can get with all people working from an office.