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Remote Working in India — A Reflective Study by Hari Ganapathy, Co-founder of Pickyourtrail

By Hari Ganapathy - July 10, 2020

I started working remotely in 2009 in Chandigarh. I had rented at 300Sq feet space built on top of the garage! My days started me switching on my laptop right from bed and checking depot stock and moved on to make calls to know daily commits and what not. Most area Sales Managers would have started their career working out of distributor offices, depots or at their home. As a sales guy on the road, working remotely is baked into your routine – airports, cabs, coffee shops you just end up working from wherever you have decent signal in the Tata Photon+ dongle.

Fast forward to 2020, there is a lot of noise around Remote being the norm. While the shift is happening, the extent of the purported shift is where my doubts are.

Challenge One – Remote works for Business as usual, ideation is difficult

As a sales guy, it’s great to work remote because your daily activities are broadly sorted. You are mostly on execution mode or crunching numbers to figure out what’s happening to market share. It’s in those monthly meetings with the entire team that you ideate on trade schemes, how to win over competition, how to redistribute territories. It takes another team meeting to cascade the trade schemes, build morale, revisit what worked and take up new goals.

In this lockdown how many times have missed just turning around and getting feedback on that design? Or that brainstorming session with caffeine overload and a whiteboard with handwriting that will put any doctor to shame? If you are building a completely new product in this lockdown, hats off to you, you are pulling off something that’s extremely difficult.

Challenge two – Remote requires comfort with asynchronous communication

I have sent you an email, can you pls check?

People walking up to your desk and letting you know that they have sent you an email, They could have as well carried it with them right?

In my limited experience, I have seen an underlying theme of having to follow up to move things quite often than I would have liked to. This breaks the chain for asynchronous communication, it makes it impossible to build uninterrupted work zones. How can someone work remotely if there is no guarantee in them having seen the email, or that they will acknowledge or respond to that email?

Challenge three – Remote requires great written and verbal communication

Most Indians don’t read guide books. How many of you have read the how to install or use product manual when you bought something? At Pickyourtrail getting folks to read the difference in inclusions between offerings has been a challenge. Add to it this shorter attention spans of our generation – getting someone to read a big product requirement document is a huge challenge. Without this ability to read and engage in verbal conversations, asynchronous working is near impossible, which then makes remote working extremely difficult.

Speaking of documentation, we are also not trained to write extensive documents. This makes it extremely difficult for folks to get context when they are picking up something new, there is so much information siloed in the org. Remote makes it extremely difficult to permeate. It was always easier to walk up to that person to know more details.

Challenge four – Remote needs amazing Product managers

Its been about 10 years maybe since the concept of product managers came in? They are the most crucial cog in any org. They are the glue that binds that entire effort and determines how smooth the wheel is. Compare and contrast this with American or European eco-systems Scrum came in at 1990 and Agile was in the 2000s. That skill is perfected over time and they have a great ecosystem of both support and experience. As a relatively new PM, your task is quite difficult – getting folks on the same call, slack is buzzing constantly, you are trying to wrap up the documentation on that new feature and all of this being done remote can be quite a strain! Outside India, I would like to believe that their head-start in this field, combined with default inclination to documentation, asynchronous working makes them a lot more ready for this transition to the remote.

Challenge five – Office is also where people hangout

For a lot of us, the office can be a space where we also have our social circle. This is a stark difference in western worlds where work and private life are significantly bifurcated. We hang out with our colleagues and its also the space for us to discover new interests and likes. For someone who has moved into Bangalore from Kochi or Chennai on their first or second job, the office is where their social life starts as well.

There are some obvious wins as well. For starters, urban cities would be decongested and we will have more folks participating in the Indian tech revolution. I love the fact that I can have lunch with my kids/parents every day, it’s amazing that you can just wake up and join that morning standup, you save significant time and money on travel and associated costs. It’s going to exciting next 5-10 years as Remote picks up the pace and becomes a co-existing way of working from its current levels!

What are your thoughts on working remotely?