S01 E03: Importance of Physical Presence in the Workplace

Kailash Ganesh
18 min read

As the months pass by, the COVID situation seems to be evolving. More and more people are now reconsidering their previous opinions in regards to working from home and eCulture. How MNCs or startups have been handling the situation is quite different from that of MSMEs. The response of MSMEs, especially in the case of essential services, has been unique.

In Episode 3 of Culture Club, we interact with Mr Rishav Dev, where he shares how the management and the HR department of MSMEs responded to the pandemic while making sure their factories did not stop running.

Rishav, the Vice President Human Resources of Anmol Feeds Private Limited, is a veteran HR who believes relationship building is the core of any organization. With an experience of over 16 years, Rishav has led several companies towards revolutionary changes while also mentoring younger professionals in this arena. Rishav was awarded Sustainable HR Leader (India) in 2020 and 101 Top HR Minds (India) in 2019, by World HRD Congress and CHRO Asia respectively.

In this episode of Culture Club, Rishav talks about the challenges they had to face during the multiple lockdowns in the country and explains how they managed to keep the factories open, while a chunk of the workforce moved to their native lands.

During his conversation with Ketan (Head of People Function, Rentomojo) and Senthil (Founder & CEO, CultureMonkey), Rishav tells about his observations about how the tensions were high when they worked from home. However, according to him, these conflicts reduced to a great extent when people returned to their office. He notes that the absence of physical proximity disturbed most people in ways they had never imagined, and that impacted the relationships they had built over the years.

Rishav emphasizes the importance of the physical presence of people in any setting, be it workplace or otherwise. He understands that the physical presence of their team members empowers people in great ways, and people will no doubt look for ways to come back to the office while making the best of technological advancements during such a crisis.

Watch the video-cast to listen to the conversation between Rishav, Ketan, and Senthil.


Senthil [00:00:27] So, yeah. I'll give a quick sense of context here. So Rishav and Ketan. So here we are. You know, this is the initiate by Culture Club, and Culture Club is an initiative by CultureMonkey. So the main agenda of culture clubs is to bring HRs and CHROs from leading organizations in India and solve the problem of culture with the remote setting. Right. So now the whole world is working remotely. And the concept of Founder's vision getting executed with culture in place is gone for a toss. so we are here to solve that problem. We have instore a few questions that we can discuss, and why are discussing these questions and answers? We could also bring on a lot of value for our viewers. So Ketan from Rentomojo is going to be the host for this and Rishav from Anmol Feeds would be the guests today and. Yeah. So it's all happy to get this started. So over to you Ketan.

Ketan [00:01:41] Thank you Senthil! Rishav Welcome! Welcome again. To give a context, it is important to understand what am I doing here? So I, I am kind of advising CultureMonkey. The reason I'm doing that is when I experienced their product and met the team, I had no reason to say not to help them. It's a brilliant product, brilliant team. And the kind of work they're doing and what they're trying to changes is super amazing. That's the reason I am here. To viewers, for giving a context about how do I know Rishav. He is right now, well, younger than how is it looking in the camera. I and Rishav go back a long time, more than 10 years.

We were working together, in a big group. He was initially part of a different unit. I was part of a different unit. Then something brought us together. One manager, one boss brought us together. So we were working together  Our job was going through a very, very difficult challenge.  I think Rishav has done some amazing kind of work.

Ketan [00:03:09] One of the things that I definitely that's something about Rishav inspires me is his power to build relationships and get work done, give him the most difficult employee who's not resigning, who is a problem. Right. He would either correct him, or that guy in the next 24 hours would have resigned and gone without trouble. And He's somebody who'll talk to people from a very human connect, and tell them and makes them realize, why their staying does not make sense for them.  Getting Rishav was also important because that's something that I keep on telling him how a product like CultureMonkey is important for the HR fraternity, while Rishav has worked with very, very large structure organizations right now is working with a very, very different context, which is a home-grown profitable organization, which is trying to professionalize services. Now, that's a battle. That's a challenge. It's picked up from him. So we do have conversations.

I think you do understand the kind of unique difficulty he faces. But I thought of getting him here to get his perspective about that part of the MSMEs are responding to this issue because it will bring a lot about deep change in processes. How that probably won't work so far. That's just how we can talk a lot more about him on a personal level. But he's been a dear friend, we connect a lot. Rishav, thank you so much. Glad that you're here. And, Rishav also I think 2 and a half years back got this big award in the HR fraternity i.e "Top 100 HR leaders" and got the same award this year too!

Ketan [00:06:26] Yeah, that's Rishav for you. Rishav, If you want to share something, you could do that. But I'm excited to shoot out a few really interesting questions to you and I would love to hear your insights and thoughts about it.

Rishav [00:06:41] Thank you so much, Ketan. You remembered all the things I have, in fact, honed my skills furthermore, I've gained that demobilization expertise. Still, it is very painful. I would honestly accept that fact. It is still too painful. But of course, the business call requires that to be done and you know as it goes. It is good for the person who we are demobilizing. So intact solutions. I see it as a relationship. Some of the relationships don't work at times in life. So it is the same way that happens. So I take it that way. So organizations also it is all about relationships like the relationship with your employee, or the employee's relationship with the organization.

So if things don't work, so it is better that we part ways gracefully. Absolutely. That is what I believe. So I have been trying to do it, but I wish it never happens. But some things are inevitable at times and the business requires that to happen. So great. Thank you so much. Ketan you remember all these things even after working. I think we work seven, eight months. We work together. It was a very small stint. I wish I could have worked more with you.

Rishav [00:07:51] You are an amazing friend. I still remember the first time I drove your car from Chandigarh to Delhi. I still remembered the small experiences and that motivated me to buy that same old car. So these things. This is all relationships. I have made some great friends, Ketan Of course, one of them, as a mentor, as a friend, as a brother, he has been always with me. So, I strongly believe in the relationship. So I am ready for your questions. I wish I can answer them properly and meet your expectations. Although he has more experience than I've experienced it. But honestly, this is a very difficult industry to do with.

Ketan [00:08:37] So, do you want to talk a bit about your organization?

Rishav [00:08:38] Yes, I would love to talk about the organization and the industry. So this is basically we are into Agribusiness. So as you are aware it's highly unorganized. So we deal with farmers, we deal with dealers, all these people. And the product that you sell is basically it's a food kind of a thing. So, for humans, even if you don't get food for one day or two days. We can still survive. But when we are dealing with animals, for example, the poultry, they have poultry feed on the fish feed. They need food on time because it's all directly related to the commercials. For example, any particular bird that we grow it it has a small shelf-life because I suppose it is an investment for the farmer. So they need food on time, the required growth. We cannot delay these things. So this is a very complex industry.

Rishav [00:09:29] We are dealing with life that is directly related to the business and more coming to a broader organization like it is not a typical corporate or like an MNC that every division is very fast. You can expect dynamic movement in the decision-making process. At times, decisions get stuck with the order. So that is itself a challenge because you have to influence that particular gentleman to get the business out of it. Whatever your professional thoughts maybe. So my goal has been to transform this organization. So when I joined this organization almost three years back, it was a family run business. But my MD, a very young and dynamic kind of person. He thought that he wants to transform this business. I was the first person in a professional capacity who joined this place, and they want us to get to connect in my first day there with us, I think the first manufacturing industry, I got 7 interviews to be given in this company. See, since I was being the first person was hired.

So, I had to go through seven rounds and top veterans of the industry interviewed me. Then I joined this organization. Then the structuring was made, the senior level people came in finance. CFOs, marketing heads, and IIM grads joined this organization and it has changed a lot. After that, it was really difficult. Still, we are struggling to some extent. But the journey is, on actually finding things that are a huge challenge. But it is fun.

Ketan [00:11:37] Oh well. Good. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Ketan [00:11:58] What challenges does the CXOs have to deal with post-COVID, when it comes to culture, with the world going remote?

Rishav [00:12:10] Fortunately in this COVID, we were not that much. In fact, we were not impacted to that extent because we are into an essential commodity. But of course, when things are in a down phase, everybody tries to save money. People run away or hide somewhere. That kind of instinct. What people have. So similarly, we also tried to save some money. We did not stop working even for a single day. But at times, you save something for the longer term. I'm sure your understanding what I'm going through. So some decisions were really difficult for all HODs to convince the people down the line. Because here's the problem with the ground level people are: Look, people are they are not highly educated. For example, in sales, we don't require an IIM graduate or something like that to sell. Right. So there are many simple peoples. At times not even graduates.

Rishav [00:13:22] But they're selling and doing crores of transactions per year. So these people are very old in the system. So convincing these people that boss, we are taking some harsh steps at this stage to safeguard the long term and all the people. But we don't want to remove people or demobilize people. We want everybody. So some of the positions we are doing really difficult. So I think we have upper management because it was difficult for them to understand and explain these people. There is one thing in collaboration, I think has become a challenge. It is really difficult because face to face discussion or when you walk up to the people. In case of any conflict or any dispute, it is much more easier.

For example, if I have a dispute with any of my team members, if I disagree. If you're Face-To-Face. We can advocate. We can understand the body language. But in case of a distance or zoom call or something on phone, at times it is a challenge. So people would understand, and our discussion is ending not so good in the web environment. So I think team collaboration of course is a challenge. So attrition in that is I would say. So you don't understand the people mindset, what they're thinking.

Rishav [00:14:56] Well, if we were to have been working continuously together, people's interaction level would have been there. So if the discussions or the meetings would have been happening. I don't think this decision would have been there or they would have easily stayed. So, now for me, leaving these people would be a challenge. So this is because of the conflict and non Face-To-Face discussion, and indirect contact is a big challenge. Plus my factory, one of the major reasons.  We have eight factories. Right.

So factory manpower instead of factory manpower is an absolute difficulty. Before lockdown, some of them had moved in more to their own places. Now, getting those men back is I I'm sure people know how much difficulty is in a manufacturing. So we are running with almost 60 percent of the manpower capacity and the demand is extremely high. Were matching their expectations. Of course, we are planning Incentives for the people overtimes and all these things are there. But if suppose you need 10 people, you need 10 people. You don't run it by six people.

Ketan [00:16:11] You spoke about communication and collaboration becomes a challenge. Now, what's the silver lining? What's the good thing that you are seeing the shift happening in the managerial functions or the CXOs, which, as an HR we've been trying for a long time to make it happen. What are those silver linings that you see?

Rishav [00:16:39] To some extent, I would say in fact, now that opposites have also happened. Communication has become really fast. For example, in the lockdown phase, when the first month we've got all operating from home, even at 10 o'clock we will be talking in Zoom call. But in normal times, we never did interfere in the time after regular shifts. But during the lockdown days when everybody was at home, even at 10:00, we got zoom meetings done. And then there, well, some of the decisions were really fast. So technology has in fact done a big achievement.

I would say because I think we saved a lot of money through the lockdown due to technology. In our organization, we believe in all face to face meetings continuously, people coming in from all the locations. And this was the month when people used to come because of the appraisal meetings. So all those happened through zoom.

Ketan [00:18:18] But do you think this will continue in your kind of industry, or when it attains normalcy everything will come back to the normal ones. I would not let go of that. Are people ready to adopt technological solutions?

Rishav [00:18:37] Ketan, in our manufacturing setup we have two major functions. One is a factory, right? 40 - 45 percent of manpower, is actually factory people. Right. The rest 40 percent is close to other fields Salesforce. So our field salesforce has started moving into the field. Of course, not that aggressively, but they have already started. And the second is the factory and it is already running. So, you know, now we're getting back the same old people, challenges are out there. So it has not affected much in our industry. And I don't think it will affect. Because people have started living with this. Now, my office is almost running in about 70 to 80 percent capacity.

Ketan [00:19:23] The question that I had is "has it changed for the better? Would the adoption of technology improve, as you see on it? You go back to exactly the same state as before?

Rishav [00:19:39] See technology of course it has our benefit. As I mentioned, we saved a lot of money. So of course, Zoom, google meet or any office software will be the norm. It is. It is for sure, because any businessman or an owner or any function who understands the profitability of a business, they'd adopt to business technology. Without technology, we cannot survive now.

Ketan [00:20:18] Do you think this entire adoption technology,  due to this COVID, what do you think it means for the HR fraternity. What are the new things we should focus on? What has been a learning for us as a profession, as a group or as a course of things?

Rishav [00:20:42] I personally feel training will gain a lot of advantage. Because we have started doing training as a single entity. Online training will be gaining a lot of advantages. And the second part is you need to have a strong HRMS facility where direct connections are not being required that much because anyway, the world will not stop here. Right. Technology has gained its importance and people will need more of a self-service, kind of thing. So in that part, very strong HRMS and training platforms are essentials.

Ketan [00:21:20] As an individual, as a person, or both as a professional combination. What do you think are the new things we need to be open to with this newer world on how things are evolving?

Rishav [00:21:43] On a personal front, I think we need to be more updated on whatever new things are coming in. In the case of e-learning and we need to move towards that. We need to feel comfortable while imparting training through the e-mode. And whatever service we can give to the online media. That is what is I think will be required because we have somewhere lost. We were very good at physical training and in-class training and all these things. So now I think this will be required even in a manufacturing setup. As I say, we. It was all physical and practical. Right. So classroom-based, on the job.

On the field, these things will have to change because it will be really difficult. We don't even know when we start moving out. For example, for us meeting, we're all going over the factories. It is still a challenge and we are not sure when we do it.

Ketan [00:22:43] What's your point of view on the concept of e-culture? Do you think culture would now be very, very contemporary, would be digitized, very remote? Really very far different than it was made from. physical office to the virtual world, what's your sense on that?

Rishav [00:23:11] I think we all live in a very recency effect. Any new thing that has happened. We all think this will happen. This is going to happen. I honestly don't think this will remain forever. Of course, e-learning has its benefits but discovered it will again. Good. Get it in no time. I think it will be gone and we'll all be back on the same old track. But I suppose since some of the things like technology and all this has in saving money, people used to think that it is not possible. It has made us possible that we are doing it. So some of the benefits we will take. For example, we were lacking the office when we came to office. We started meeting people and it was actually fun. You're enjoying this. Sitting at home was had really become a challenge for us. You think nobody said they want to see more of those people? It was really difficult, I think.

So we'll go back with the same habits. I'm sure about it, but we will utilize our technology because technology is one thing from which everybody is has benefited at this time. So even as a manufacturing industry, I think people have always been doing it. My wife is in IT, though. She has been working from home and is still working from home. She doesn't have a problem. But for people like us, manufacturing especially, we need a physical presence. We need to go to the factory. We had a major cyclone in Calcutta. The second day I was there. I was there at my factory the next the very next day.

So if I would have told my people I would e-meet on Zoom. They would have said - "Not required boss". So my physical presence was required in that difficult time. So physical things will always remain. But I suppose the benefit of that IT system and all that.

Ketan [00:25:10] I'm gonna throw some random questions to you and you have to revert back to the first response that you get, right?

Ketan [00:25:33] So if not, HR, what would you have become?

Rishav [00:25:38] Oh, lovely. I would have been a forest official. or photographer. I would have been in the forest. Animals are far better, that's why!

Ketan [00:26:13] Oh, Okay, I know what you're going to do after retirement for sure. No.

Ketan [00:26:17] Second, your favorite holiday destination before COVID?

Rishav [00:26:25] Bali!

Ketan [00:26:26] OK, favorite destination, after COVID?

Rishav [00:26:32] Still Bali!

Ketan [00:26:33] Beautiful.

Rishav [00:26:34] I think it was because I just came back from my honeymoon because before COVID. I was really petrified that I'd be allowed in my country and not be able to see at all. Okay.

Ketan [00:27:06] OK, now between cooking, cleaning, mopping. Which one did you become an expert at going forward?

Rishav [00:27:20] Whatever, my wife and my mother asked for. Mostly mopping.

Ketan [00:27:52] One thing, you would want to thank COVID for?

Rishav [00:28:04] I'm still alive. Thanks for that!

Senthil [00:29:00] But I think one of the very interesting points, you know, again and again, you were iterating is that the physical you know, when you started off you said the dispute was easier to disarm when people met in person. Right. Yeah. And communication itself. That is this. I was reminded of this psychological thing that in communication seven, there's a rule called seven. Thirty-eight. Fifty-five to seven percent is your content. Thirty-eight percent is your chronology and fifty-five percent is your body language and therefore you have to haven't been beauty are going to be already battling with communication and it comes to especially a dispute without empathy and people seeing each other. It's going to be a very hot topic at the end and the likes of the same points. You've got very interesting you know, there are many very interesting points.

Senthil [00:30:00] You know, we have all of this dissension. So Ketan I think, you know, this is one of the valuable sessions for us too. So do you have any other points to add Ketan?

Rishav [00:30:17] I would like to add a point here. We have seen the highest number of conflicts in this COVID phase. The look from the maximum number of times, the highest amount of negativity. Yes. In this little phase. But once we get into office, then that situation changed. It was all like what we had done before. Right. So, great relationships again developed like earlier. Once we were back in the office, everything got normal. So that is no. I still believe physical presents cannot be replaced immediately with this so practical experience. This is what I feel like.

Senthil [00:31:41] I think you've noted not just only in the workplace right, even in the work that's going on right now. You know, overall, this isn't so much negativity. And like you said, like you said, if if, you know, in three or four months' time and everything, you know, settles down and we all come back. This immediate harmony to all relationships and not just look at that. It's definitely a psychological suppression. There's no expression to point for a human being. So that's phenomenal. So thanks. Thanks. I think this is a great session. And, you know, there's another point.

I'm getting my point about it, not because of this lockdown, like you said, because you are getting these. I don't know. I just think that it is very interesting when someone said at the zoos, imagine that animals are always going to lock them up, so. Right. Right. What for humans? The first time we'll get to experience that down at the zoo. Animals are always going that that's how it feels. You know, that's the this is how will they see? That's all. I didn't get back up like so. Ketan you have any other points to add here?

Ketan [00:33:27] Biologically, we get a lot far better fitting and obviously when we are around humans. That's how we are conditioned. So my belief is also that five, six months from now, 50 percent of people would want to come back to work. I think what would an organization do is, they would start doing is create flexibility saying that. Okay. So I think balance is going to be the goal before we do. We are also taking certain making certain choices. I know I will not use my full office capacity. You're looking at an office where it would not come to provide that infrastructure an opportunity to do that. But the human intervention, human interface, human connect, physical connect, physical space is very empowering. And I'm glad that Rishav called it out.

Ketan [00:34:26] We need to provide enable people to choose what works for them, for what we've come back to life. This is something I keep wanting, saying again and again for the first time in history, all organizations or organizations bigger than human resources who perhaps are missing office is too hard. But that's going to start developing the relationships.

Rishav [00:34:52] We have started building relationships with people.

Ketan [00:34:56] Yes. I mean, especially some for somebody like Rishav, who is very relationship-oriented. I think this definitely would have had a huge impact. That was phenomenal. Thank you so much for your time Rishav!

Rishav [00:35:35] All right. Thanks for the opportunity Senthil!

Senthil [00:35:38] Yes. Yes. All right. You know, there are more episodes coming and, you know, Rishav, we soon hope to connect with you again for the second season. And then we have different problems, different questions get answered. And you can have this valuable, interesting conversation brought up again. All the best. Thanks a lot, guys. And I hope to see you around soon. Bye!