Virtual Meeting: Resilience & Excellence inspired by Crisis

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Virtual Meeting: Resilience & Excellence inspired by Crisis

By Mridula Kashyap

The global pandemic caused by the coronavirus has forced organisations around the country into a forced ‘remote work/work from home’ mode. Even with the availability of many tools that allow remote teamwork and connectivity, this has posed serious challenges to organisations that work on-the-ground. And of course, there are the added issues of lack of connectivity in semi-urban/rural areas or the lack of requisite technology and its know-how.

This has not only caused disruptions to current program implementation for a lot of organisations with possible ramifications in the short and medium-term, but is likely to affect future partnerships and funding as well.

Given this situation, we felt it was important to ask if there was a way to change the lens and look at this time of crisis as one inspiring resilience and excellence? Surely, by working together, we can find solutions to ride this situation out – solutions that can enable better ways of doing things for the time to come. We wanted to look at this as an opportunity to learn how to become better, stronger, and more agile organisations.

So, Arthan brought together leaders from different social impact organisations through a webinar and asked them what they were doing to keep things running – communicating with their teams, funders, and other stakeholders, maintaining team morale, engaging in activities for capacity building, reassessing work plans, and more. And here is what they had to say.

Avani Kapur, Director, Accountability Initiative & Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
The first thing that most organisations are doing or should do is communicate clearly with their teams – explain what they know of the situation and possible outcomes. The same goes for funders and investors. Maintaining transparency is essential.
One of the challenges this situation poses is getting people to change their style of working in a sudden manner. However, connecting with them beyond work conversations, such as instituting ‘virtual coffee chats’ – a group video chat where team members discuss what they would otherwise do on meeting in the break room while getting a cup of coffee. This is especially effective during these times of ‘social distancing’.
Along with this, identifying online courses and capacities that teams may want to build so as to upskill themselves and perform better is a great option. Organisations can look at funding such initiatives for increased outputs in the future.
What would you retain in the future?
The use of technology and tools – there is definitely something to be said for increased efficiencies and connectivity and these are worth continuing in the future. Also, this is a good time for organisations to create work-from-home protocols. Remote working may actually be the future of work.

Rajika Seth, Lead: Learning & Development, Accountability Initiative
One of the effects of the situation is that communication is becoming more streamlined than ever before. Most organisations are setting up ways in which information can be shared and accessed more efficiently and conversations amongst team members can be planned while respecting work timelines and ethics. In such times, managing relationships between managers and their teams has become ever more important. Stress needs to also be laid on spending time reading, writing, developing content, and working on other things that most of us always keep for later – ‘for when we will have some time.’
There are also a lot of opportunities to increase our domain knowledge and improve the content that we deliver, along with upskilling ourselves and our teams.
What would you retain in the future?
Pivoting to online mediums and creating online resources and courses – while this is something many organisations have to develop, continuing on this would be beneficial and even cost-effective in the long run.

Nandita Banerjee, Head HR & Capacity Building, ASER
For organisations working on programs with a large scale, the challenges have been all the more difficult. Reaching out to those who work at the block and district level takes time and implementing changes even more so. For those teams that were caught mid-project, managing the logistics has also been hard as the priority becomes health before everything else. The next step becomes staying engaged – for the teams and the organisation itself. Identifying areas of focus and concrete capacity-building help. And team management tools come in handy, to assess work and stay connected with teams.
At such a time, another good way to utilise the time of those who are finding themselves less engaged than usual is to divert their energies to creating content, maybe even in multiple languages, to help teams and the community at large. For organisations working with children and their education, use of tablets and/or sending material via phone is an option wherever possible.

Manas Rath, Senior Advisor, BORDA
There are some organisations that have not traditionally been structured, with fixed timings and office spaces – and while they may already have systems in place for remote working, it is important to bring in discipline and structure. This may lead to the creation of extra work but will be a good investment considering that the future of work may very well be remote. However, given that the timeline of the current situation is unclear, it becomes difficult for organisations to define plans. While for now, teams and projects can be allowed to evolve based on the situation, it is important to remember that with more clarity, some institutional changes, systems & processes need to be brought in.
This situation has also brought with it an increase in anxiety – with many staff members worried about social security, health benefits and more. It is important for an organisation to take cognisance of this and work with their teams to help manage these concerns.
What would you retain in the future?
New, innovative ways to collaborate remotely are being experimented with – this is something that can be taken into the future as it also opens up chances of possible collaborations that weren’t thought of before.

Sneha Arora, Chief Programs Officer, Atma
One of the buzzwords, while all organisations function in this exceptional work-from-home mode, is ‘over-communicate’, and rightly so. With increasing physical distances, staying in touch becomes even more important for us. Scheduling calls to stay updated with work, or discuss other aspects of life, feelings, new learnings, or to meditate together are some ways that have been working for many. But it is equally important to take time out for prioritizing mental health – both of ourselves and our team members. It would be good if we can look at this time as being given a chance to work on things we couldn’t before and focus on the positive. In addition, there needs to be a conversation around the health and financial impact so that organisations can plan accordingly.
We must also be willing to think beyond ourselves, and as organisations, try to play a part in supporting other organisations, such as NGOs who may be under more pressure, by sharing resources.
What would you retain in the future?
Virtual facilitation sessions – there are many platforms that allow connectivity, teamwork, tracking and more and can also be used for conducting virtual sessions.

Amol Mishra, Global Commercial Director, CottonConnect
There are enough stories about being an optimist, a pessimist and a realist – and maybe there is something there. In times such as these, denial won’t help. So it is important to be pragmatic and make realistic plans. It will help organisations to think about how they can be agile and adapt to the changing environment – there will be some factors that are constant, but looking at the variables and planning for their changing nature will serve organisations better. Stay in touch with teams at every stage and build confidence while setting realistic expectations. Monitor the daily cash flow and revenue streams to assess areas for change as scenario planning is useful at this time. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst-case scenarios, even if the probability is 0.5%.

Sabina Dewan, President & Executive Director, JustJobsNetwork
Human relationships and connections go a long way in ensuring success for any organisation. The first step is to ensure the safety of the staff and allow for flexibilities so teams can plan when and how they work. For organisations that are unable to conduct fieldwork, it would be prudent to identify the work that can be done in its stead and communicate the same to the donors.
What would you retain in the future?
There is an opportunity to learn and transition to online tools and software for teamwork and exploring additional productivity tools that can be employed by organisations for the coming future.

Sanjana Sen, Program Manager, Swayam Shikshan Prayog
The importance of regular calls and connectivity cannot be stressed enough. Addressing the issues faced by the field staff, reaching out to donors and sharing updates with all is essential. Along with this, it’s important to develop work plans for off-field activities first and begin a reassessment of programs and their implementation keeping in mind the economic perspective.

Chaitra Mehra, Associate – Human Resources, WRI
The sudden onslaught of the situation of lockdown has impacted hiring decisions across organisations. Those candidates that had recently been given joining letters have been put in strange positions. Organisations have the option of deferring joining until after the situation gets in control or can also let new recruits work remotely through online inductions and training sessions. Interviews can also be conducted online via video chat tools, specifically for roles that need to be filled urgently.
For existing team members, helping them with their mental wellbeing is important. Connecting informally, checking-in on those members who live alone, away from family, and possibly instituting an employee assistance program can go a long way.

Mitali Dohroo, Senior Associate – Human Resources, WRI
One of the initial and possibly long term changes that this situation will have is on human behaviour. To ensure, we all come out of this healthy, mental wellbeing is an important focus area. Many employees, possibly more women than men are suddenly having to take on a lot (balancing work and home) leading to increased stress levels. There is a benefit in creating groups such as working moms groups to understand the issues being faced, providing support and finding solutions.
There also is a lot of scope for working on Learning & Development initiatives by identifying courses teams and individuals may want to learn. Organisations can allocate lessons that are helpful from a personal and professional perspective.

Bhawna Gulati, Virohan
While there has been much emphasis on the importance of connectivity, asking the teams to share their expectations and experiences also help. Sharing surveys with employees to understand how they are feeling, what their stress points are and areas of support they need both professionally and personally will help provide answers to a lot of questions HR professionals find themselves asking. HR teams can also connect with a few employees on a rotational basis so as to address individual concerns. Organisations also need to work towards creating awareness of the economic impacts on all fronts.

From our virtual meeting, it is clear that in times of crisis, mental wellbeing of the team is an important area to be focussed on. Organisations also need to work on changing program implementation plans and consider various financial decisions based on best and worst-case scenarios. While these are some of the things organisations are working on, as situations change and newer challenges arise, it will be important for us to collaborate and work together to find solutions to build resilience and excellence within our organisations and in the work we do.

Is your organisation seeking support during this time? Are there topics you’d like us to cover? Write to us at mridula@arthancareers.com

For us at Arthan, there too have been many learnings.
Read: Life In The Times Of Corona to find ways to deal with working from home while having to stay at home.
Also read: Nonprofit financial planning for COVID-19 for a guide on planning for best to worst-case scenarios, especially for NGOs.

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