New job? When it comes to building relationships with Indian colleagues, it’s food that matters the most, according to Mumbai-based operations manager Neha Thadani. Three years ago, when Thadani joined her current company, an MNC based in Mumbai, the newness of the office was overwhelming. “It was a disconcerting experience,” says the 35-year-old, “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know how things worked, so I decided to change that with food.”
Sweeten your new colleagues
Every day, she would bring something new to office, sweet or savoury, and made it a point to walk across to a couple of colleagues at mid-morning, introduce herself and offer them snacks. “Most people took a breather, talked about what kind of food they loved, and this camaraderie continued as our personal conversations started,” says Thadani.
The initial hesitation over, within a week, her colleagues were inviting her for coffee breaks in the evening, or for lunch, introducing her to others. Within a month, Thadani knew a lot of people in her office, from top management to her juniors, and could find someone to help her out if she was stuck in her work. “Because of food, I could find the human side to the managers and bosses in my office, and connect to them beyond the work they gave me,” says Thadani, something that she feels has helped her tremendously throughout her jobs.
Build relationships anew
Building relationships at work are as important as the tasks the employees have been hired for, according to Neharika Vohra, professor (organizational behaviour), Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. “Relationships are the glue that binds tasks and teams, so they need to be paid attention to,” she says. In the beginning it is best to observe, understand and recognize the pattern of networks within your workplace. “Take initiative to reach out to people, help someone with something you can offer, show people that you are interested in them,” adds Vohra.
Are you ready for the expertise economy? Constant upskilling and gaining expertise beyond education is the millennial way to work.
At the age of 25, Gautam Soni, who works as a business analyst at LinkedIn in Bengaluru, has already pivoted twice in his career. After graduating, he did not find a job immediately and tried his hand as a digital media consultant. Two years later, he become interested in data science and pursued a post-graduation diploma with UpGrad, an online course and certification site, investing all his savings into it.
While completing the course, he joined LinkedIn India in operations. He was encouraged to apply his learning on the operations role and in a few months, moved to business analysis, getting a 75% salary hike. “In jobs today, we face new challenges on a daily basis and it’s very important to stay updated and possess the right skill-set,” says Soni.
Soni’s experience captures work life in the age of digitization and acceleration where the world of work is going through a large-scale transition and critical skills and expertise are imperative for success. “New platforms, technologies and ways of business are sprouting constantly,” says Kelly Palmer, co-author of The Expertise Economy, “Businesses and employees need to make sure they have expertise to make these changes work for them. The career path of a future employee focuses on skill development rather than college pedigree,” she explains.
Forward thinking companies have already restructured their process in such a way that employees have the choice, and freedom to decide what expertise they want to develop. For startups like 75F, a company that makes efficient buildings using internet of things and cloud computing, upskilling is a necessity to remain competitive in a fast changing, dynamic market.
“From our CEO to a new intern, every employee in our workforce has to stay at pace with technology,” says Oindri Sengupta, HR head, 75F India. “This is why we prioritize learning and development and invest in our people to upskill.” Every new employee goes through an intensive training program and then continues updating themselves through in-house libraries, online courses, industry-relevant certifications and training programs.
The value of an individual today lies in the knowledge and skills he or she brings to an employer or an organization and millennials recognize this, says Lisa Cannell, MD and leadership professor at Darden School of Business in University of Virginia, US in an email interview. This new wave has changed how employees view their careers.
“Millennials now value skill building and development opportunities within a job as much as compensation. If they don’t get required training from companies, they find courses to reskill themselves.”
Lisa Cannell, MD and leadership professor at Darden School of Business in University of Virginia
More time is wasted on demeaning the term ‘feminist’ than on understanding and accepting it. Hear me out.
The first time I came across the word ‘feminism’ was in the first week of being at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi. I’d just joined the Bachelors in English and a teacher introduced the class to the feminist ideology, talking about how the social constructs of patriarchy were a way to silence the female gender.
As an impressionable student, I imagined her with a flamed sword, chopping down the shackles of patriarchy our lives were contained in. Outside the class, I asked this teacher if she was married. She said yes. “Ma’am, if you’re a feminist, how can you live with a man?”
The oft misunderstood feminist
Like many others, the presumptuous 17-year-old me had misunderstood the word and done it grave injustice. According to the dictionary, the word ‘feminist’ refers to ‘an advocate of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’. But when I heard it first, I twisted its meaning and made it more about gender wars rather than striving for equality.
Within this anecdote lies my lifelong struggle with the word. (The word, mind you, not the ideology, before you sharpen your Twitter swords at me.) In India, as elsewhere, the word ‘feminist’ is taken into an alternative universe, twisted and turned into a swear word.
Would you use the F-word?
In a dramatic scene in my tantric series, a man calls Anantya Tantrist, the protagonist of the novel, a feminist. It’s not a word of appreciation but used in a slattern way, to put down, as an expletive. Anantya springs out her boneblade, slaps it onto his neck and whispers: “Don’t use the F-word.” Though the dialogue was published as it is in the Indian edition, it was red-flagged by a US-based literary agent.
The moot point: Why would Anantya, a feminist in all manners of behaviour and character, someone who fights against the rigidly patriarchal tantric society, have a problem with being called a feminist? For that’s what she is, isn’t she?
This is not something dramatically new. If there was a dictionary parallel, the term ‘feminist’ in our country would imply not someone who believes in equality but someone who is a ‘feminazi’, a radical feminist, a man-hater, a sexist out to destroy the other gender(s) by not shaving their armpits and not wearing bras. The politest version of its meaning I’ve heard here, unless you’re in academic living rooms, is the quietly sarcastic ‘Oh, you are the feminist type’. with an understanding nod of sudden revelation.
What are part-time startups and why are millennials doing them?
Since June 2017, Bengaluru-based Saswati Suchipadma has led a hectic life. She is a full-time technology consultant in a multinational company and runs a handmade jewellery start-up. “I have meetings with clients in the US, and deadlines both at office and with my personal business clients,” says the 26-year-old. “All my free time during weekdays and weekends goes into designing jewellery and marketing my brand over Facebook and WhatsApp.”
It’s like keeping two jobs together, says Suchipadma. However she doesn’t want to quit either. “My technology job is what I studied for and the start-up is my passion, what my mother taught me,” she says, “and now I’ve learnt to manage both together efficiently.” Her manager at work has also accepted the start-up since her work hasn’t suffered. In addition, Suchipadma feels being in a job is actually good for the start-up as she gets more clients for her jewellery designs.
Riding in two boats
A whopping 90% of Indian start-ups fail within the first five years, according to a study titled Entrepreneurial India by IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics in mid-2016. The most common reason for failure, according to the study, is lack of a unique business model and new technology.
Gurugram-based Aparajita Roy, a 28-year-old photographer and corporate trainer, is happy managing a start-up and a job while she learns more. “I am from a middle-class background and want financial stability in my venture before I quit my job,” she says.
Since five years, Roy has been working as a corporate trainer in a UK-based financial firm. Her start-up, an event planning and photography venture, began a little more than a year ago. The going has been good with 15 clients in one year, but not good enough for Roy to quit her job. “A full-time job guarantees regular pay and being in a corporate environment exposes me to a lot of business and networking tactics,” says Roy.
Startup founders are doing meetings in newer ways to save time, increase their efficiency and also be much more productive.
When Mithun Srivatsa, co-founder and CEO of Blowhorn, a logistics startup, began his company, he had a small office in HSR Layout in Bengaluru, which could seat only four people. “I did five meetings a day, and it got too stuffy being in a room all day long,” says the 34-year-old. That was the reason he moved meetings to a beautiful park nearby. “I’ve interviewed possible employees, held training sessions and discussed growth plans with angel investors, all in that park,” he says, adding that he loved the idea so much that he has continued doing what he calls ‘park meetings’ once every day, even though the startup has a bigger office now.
Founders get out of the office
“A park changes the mood, eases the context and gives you space for small talk. It’s better for heated discussions too,” he says, adding that all kinds of possibilities open up in a meeting at a park. In one such incident, Srivatsa recalls, he was interviewing for a possible senior role position on a park bench, when the meeting turned into a lengthy discussion about the startup’s vision and mission. “At the end of it, this person wanted to put in her own money into my startup,” he laughs.
Creative meetings are a walk in the park
A 2014 study from Stanford, agrees with Srivatsa. Upon researching on people meeting at offices versus walking, the study found that walking boosts creative inspiration and leads to divergent thinking, where you explore many possible solutions to a problem.
That’s the reason, like Srivatsa, Archit Gupta, founder and CEO, ClearTax, an income tax e-filing solution, keeps his Sunday meetings with his co-founder, Srivatsan Chari, at Cubbon Park, one of the popular public parks in Bengaluru. “As we talk about growth strategy, Srivatsan, plays with stray dogs,” says Gupta, 33. The relaxed atmosphere makes them come up with creative solutions for their business and also reconnects them over fond memories of growing up together. “Mobile meetings are not only good for blood circulation but great energy boosters and diminishes hierarchical boundaries, putting everyone at ease, allowing free flow of dialogue and creating stronger personal bonds,” says Gupta, who has since then turned a couple of his everyday meetings into walking meetings.
With international work teams and timing, and smartphones with applications like Zoom, Skype and even Whatsapp, meetings on the go are a norm. However, overwhelmed with a continuous stream of meetings and communication, people are taking innovative, individual routes to keep meeting fatigue at bay.
Don’t let location distract you
Bhavin Turakhia, founder of many startups like Flock and Zeta, has over 100 meetings, every month. Over the last couple of years, this self-confessed stickler for meeting productivity has taken individualization to the height, building customized workstations in all the offices he works from—at his home in Mumbai, as well as his offices in Mumbai, Dubai, London and Los Angeles. “I don’t like to waste time when I travel for meetings,” says the 38-year-old.
“This way, I literally, pick up from where I left off, no matter which office.” Turakhia has a “specification document”, which lists down what he needs in a customized chair, arm rest and desk, including a Benel-designed custom-made chair with dual motors and a sit-stand, seven-feet long desk, which costs anywhere between ₹ 80,000-Rs 1,50,000 per set. “I’ve customized this system over time, creating an exact configuration of three external monitors, monitor stands, exact lighting levels, video conference units and my distance from the entire arrangement.
This minimizes distractions for me, no matter where I’m working from,” he explains. Since travel time to his Mumbai office has increased, he has even had his Innova modified with a work/entertainment station that includes a monitor, so his meetings continue when he is stuck in Mumbai traffic jam.
The cooperative start-up structure is still a nascent idea in India. Every morning, Nirbheek Chauhan, 30, gets ready and heads to his office—another room in his apartment in Bengaluru. There, he connects with the other six members of his team, based out of UK, Greece, France and Australia, and starts work on his current project.
Chauhan works at the software consultancy Centricular, a flat-hierarchy, co-owned start-up, which is collectively managed by all its partners—who are employees as well. For clients, Centricular is a company like any other. It’s the internal set-up that sets it apart from the regular corporate model.
In cooperatives, all employees have a say
“In a cooperative, every member has a single vote, irrespective of how many shares they own in the company,” explains Chris Chroome, administrator for CoTech, the largest online forum for cooperative technologists in the UK, and a member of a software cooperative, WebArchitects.
In other words, it’s a democracy and all employees have an equal say. “Decisions are taken collectively, which means we are both the board of directors and employees of our company,” says Deepa Venkatraman, one of the founding members of Nilenso, a Bengaluru-based software consultancy founded in 2013. Venkatraman’s day-to-day routine is like anyone else’s: You work on a project, together or individually, and then shut down your laptop to spend time with friends and family.
What is a corporate cooperative?
But, rather than founders owning and operating the business, Nilenso, a “corporate cooperative”, as Venkatraman calls it, is owned by everyone. All 16 Nilenso members annually elect two executives who are responsible for making operational decisions, like staffing, facilitating meetings and interacting with external stakeholders.
Amy Ingram is a secretary. She sets appointments and meetings. She works for top-level executives, including CEOs, in the IT, start-up and finance sectors. If you work in these industries, you’ve probably received an email from her.
But Amy is not a real person.
“She” is the creation of x.ai, a US-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up, and was built for one purpose: scheduling meetings. For people like Karthik Palaniappan, 38, CEO and founder of August Academy, a career counselling start-up in Chennai, who has to work with 40 clients a year and set up an average of 25-35 calls a week, the AI assistant is a bargain at $29 (around ₹ 2000) a month. “I run a consulting business and have online meetings with clients from across the globe in different time zones. That’s two or three iterations before a meeting is set, which is quite cumbersome. With Amy, I’ve offloaded this mundane task,” he says.
Now all Palaniappan has to do is copy Amy on an email conversation with a client—the AI assistant takes over the scheduling part of a meeting seamlessly. Other than the ease, what he likes is that his contacts follow up with Amy thinking she’s a real person.
“Ninety per cent of the time, if I don’t tell the other person that Amy’s a bot, they don’t recognize from her emails that she’s a digital assistant,” he says.
Employee engagement for millennials takes constant motivation, feedback and training.
Sudakshina Ghosh, team manager at SAP India in Gurugram, is happy with her 12-year-old job. The 39-year-old has been with the company since 2006. She has worked on assignments that range from sales and customer account management to building customer relationships, sales strategies and go-to-market strategies. “To deliver my best, I have to be engaged and encouraged,” says Ghosh. She credits SAP’s numerous programmes for professional development with ensuring she grows personally and professionally.
Bonding is essential for workplace dynamics. When Debadutta Upadhyaya joined Yahoo! India in 2004, she hit it off with her hiring manager, Neville Taraporewalla, immediately. “He had a knack for detecting issues, was caring and took me under his wing, helping me learn things that helped me grow professionally as well as personally,” says 45-year-old Upadhyaya, who credits the guidance from Taraporewalla for her rise from an account manager to sales head in the company within three years.
In 2012, Upadhyaya started her own company, Timesaverz, a home services start-up. She approached her friend and mentor for advice and guidance. “He not only encouraged my entrepreneurial dream but also helped us secure initial capital and an angel investor for Timesaverz,” says Upadhyaya. This was the reason he was the first person she thought of when forming the board for Timesaverz.
Working abroad broadens your mind. A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions, the saying goes. It’s no wonder, then, that working abroad, in a foreign country can be an incredible career experience.
According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review in May, living abroad increases self-concept clarity (your mental picture of who you are as a person), and thereby promotes clearer career decision making.
Working abroad makes you question
“When people live in their home country, they are often surrounded by others who mostly behave in similar ways so they are not compelled to question whether their own behaviours reflect their core values or the values of the culture which they are embedded in,” says Jackson G. Lu, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, and one of the authors of the study. This changes when you live abroad, since exposure to newer values and beliefs forces you to re-examine yours.