09 Jul Working From Home: A Few Lessons Learnt from Ennovent
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most workplaces shifted to a work from home model. Organisations and consultants alike are adjusting to working remotely and trying to find the best ways to balance their home and professional life effectively. We, at Ennovent, have been working remotely since our inception in 2008. Over the last decade or so, our team has effectively collaborated across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Today, our core team and advisors continue to work remotely, with members currently based in different parts of India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Austria.
“Initially, when we were setting up Ennovent in India, we had two options – choose an office location and hire people from there, or choose the best people for the position minus the location constraints”, says Peter Scheuch, Founder & Managing Director, Ennovent. We went with the latter route, as this helped us efficiently coordinate between clients and team members that were based in Europe, and social entrepreneurs that were located across India. “What began primarily as a practical consideration, has now morphed into a way of life at Ennovent” adds Chandrakant Komaragiri, Country Director – India.
The Advantages of Working from Home
Over time, this remote work model had many benefits that are unique to Ennovent’s work. Initially, we realised working from home enabled us to have a widely dispersed team that could offer business catalysation services in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, as well as in more rural parts of India. This soon extended to other parts of South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa as well.
Our flexible policies enable our people to fix their own working hours and locations. Our employees also enjoy a commute-free working lifestyle and the flexibility and independence of this are inherent in our working style. Jaya Srinivasan, Manager – Projects, puts these advantages in a nutshell – “Working from home offers many advantages. There is no travel, no unnecessary meetings which translate to work getting done faster. It also helps a great deal with mental health and managing conflict, because there is time to pause and reflect.”
Suman Biswas, Manager – Operations, reiterates the mental health benefits – “If you’re not feeling well or feeling overwhelmed, you can take some time off, rest – all in the comfort of your home”. The team also feels that they are able to strike a better work-life balance with this model. It allows them to organise their work-life around other personal responsibilities. For instance, since we follow flexible working schedules, it is easier to squeeze in a doctor’s visit or childcare duties during the day.
Karan Chandran, Director – Strategy, adds, “This structure also allows us to retain an agile organisational structure with lean overheads. And it also goes without saying, but our business operations have a much smaller environmental footprint than traditional brick and mortar setups.”
The Challenges of Remote Work
However, our choice of working remotely comes with its own set of challenges. Sometimes team members go through a long teething period to figure out the appropriate work-life balance while working from home. Occasionally, the team also inevitably misses the vibrant and stimulating work environment that a physical office space offers.
Gabish Joshi, Country Director – Nepal, joined our team earlier this year and expresses a more practical concern – he faces difficulties with technology. “The Internet connection here (in Nepal) is not as fast or reliable as it might be in India or Austria. If, for instance, I am accessing google drive, sometimes it takes a longer time, which other team members might find inconvenient.” Gabish also feels the lack of face-to-face interactions at times. To combat issues like this, during the initial days of setting up Ennovent, Peter travelled frequently to India to meet the team. This helped to build a rapport and forge personal relationships with everyone on the team.
“Now I feel like we work as well together remotely, as we do in person”, Peter adds.
Karan highlights another challenge that organisations in their growth phase might recognise. He says, “Sometimes virtual teams tend to bloat when they start diversifying across different practice areas and geographies. A certain level of diligence is required to ensure we retain that lean startup culture, which gives us our edge.”
How We Addressed These Challenges
Over time, Ennovent came up with a set of organization-level policies to effectively address the challenges of working remotely/ working from home.
- We work with our clients and partners to implement state of the art practices to remotely deliver tailored business catalysation support to the ventures we support.
- As a business, we follow practices such as project controlling and unit-level profitability to ensure the overall financial-viability of our business operations.
- To keep the team on the same page, we translate our vision, mission, and core values into key performance indicators at the project and individual levels to effectively guide the team.
- We maintain flexible working hours and a generous annual leave policy help to ensure that team members can also maintain a healthy work-life balance.
- Daily meetings, weekly check-ins, and monthly team calls help to keep us all up-to-date on the company, business unit, and project-level happenings and feel included.
- We use a range of communication (skype, zoom, intranet), project management (teamwork, google suite), and CRM tools (Hubspot) to ensure things run smoothly. Our operations unit extends tools-training to team members to ensure smoother operations.
- We have a week-long annual retreat where the team meets at a common location on a working vacation. When we live together and spend time together, it gives us time and space to engage as a team. We spend time together to understand where Ennovent is moving as an organisation.
- We also have an organisational policy which encourages team members in the same city to work together. Once every month, the team members can choose a coworking space of their choice, and convenience, and meet to work together. We reimburse the costs involved in the coworking space.
Yamini Sharma, Senior Manager – Finance, has a few tips to efficiently manage one’s own time, while working from home:
- Assign a designated space at home for work.
- Prepare a schedule for the whole day which helps in managing the office work.
- To work effectively, it is good to take a 10-minute break every hour.
- Talk more frequently with your coworkers whenever you find the time and share any issues you face.
More than the operational guidelines, we believe that working remotely has only been successful since trust is the overarching cultural driver at Ennovent. We have a flat hierarchy and open communication structure where we encourage everyone to freely speak with their managers about any challenges they face. “Pinging a team member on Skype has become our equivalent to walking up to a co-worker’s cubicle”, says Karan.
We maintain a democratic work environment where the reporting lines and accountability are clear. Establishment of trust and respect for other people’s time are some of the unsaid practices that define organisation culture at Ennovent.
Peter sums this up when he says, “Successfully implementing a virtual structure has more to do with trusting people. Working remotely is a cultural thing and not an IT system issue. Every single member owns Ennovent and the work.”
We hope our experience of successfully running a virtual organisation could help you with any issues that your organisation is facing in adapting to the new working structure. If you have specific questions, we will be happy to help. Please share your thoughts with us through the comments or via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.