In the light of the pandemic and lockdown that was imposed, most companies moved to a remote setup. To ensure social distancing norms, even after the three-month government-enforced lockdown, companies continued to work in a remote fashion. While there’s no denying that the lockdown and the social distancing norms were the need of the hour, and we still need to proceed with caution, there’s another side to the story. 

Can there be a scenario where it would have been rather beneficial to work on-site than at home? We didn’t think so. Much to our surprise, our views changed when we talked to Waqar Azmi, Founder, and CEO of SutraHR and StartupHR toolkit, a recruitment agency in Mumbai. 

As a company working in human resources, building teams, and employee experiences for other companies, SutraHR has a not-so-common take on culture building. The same translates to the StartupHR toolkit as well. Here’s their culture story. 

About SutraHR and StartupHR Toolkit

Founded in 2008, SutraHR provides recruitment services across Asia with the help of cutting-edge technology, a proprietary database, and a passionate team. In the past decade, SutraHR has been able to hire over 5000 people across functions and geographies for companies like Practo, Zivame, Ola, Grofers, and UrbanClap. Not just that, the company launched an HR management software, SumHR in 2011 and has also launched the StartupHR toolkit recently. 

StartupHR toolkit

For the unacquainted, StartupHR toolkit is a compilation of over 1800 ready-to-use HR templates for different stages of the HR process to help companies in managing employees effectively. Using their experience with SutrHR, the team has built easy-to-use and intuitive documents around recruitment, employee onboarding, training, performance management, among others.

Their Story: Why SutraHR and StartupHR Toolkit Team Is Not Working Remotely. 

The story before the pandemic

Since its inception, SutraHR has had its entire India team working from the Mumbai headquarters located in Andheri. All the while, the team relied on fun and togetherness as their primary motivator. A usual day there would often end with a casual get-together, a small office party, or a fun music night bringing the team closer. 

In addition to that, you’d find people enjoying the savories in their well-stocked pantry, having casual conversations, and of course, working passionately. “If you would have dropped by the office, you’d find that everyone did their own thing and had the freedom to make their own decisions. We were often out there having music sessions or get-togethers as long our work was done”, shared Waqar. 

Elaborating further on the point of freedom, Waqar told that ironically for a company working in HR, they had flexible timings and the choice to work from home whenever required. “For us, the idea is to find one primary metric that we measure performance against. As long as that metric is not hampered, people’s choices, space, and happiness are always respected here.” 

culture at sutra

“Happiness is very important to me. So, you’d often find me joking around because I don’t like to see sad people in the workplace. If I find someone’s feeling low, I’ll probably send them home for probably that day and ask them to come back when they feel better”, continue Waqar. 

2020 for SutraHR and StartupHR Toolkit

2020 has been a rollercoaster ride for almost everyone, and SutraHR too witnessed some ups and downs during the course of the year. 

For them, the year began with an exciting product launch, StartupHR toolkit, to prepare for. The team was busy working together towards building the ultimate HR support for startups when the pandemic hit. Invariably, the team started working remotely. But not for long. 

Living mere 60 meters away from the office, Waqar was the first one to shift back to the office. Following the lockdown mandates, Waqar, in fact, moved in with all his necessary belongings and stayed in the office. Soon, he was joined in by two more team members who too preferred to live at the office and worked on building the StartupHR toolkit. 

While interacting with his team remotely, Waqar started to witness the challenges they were facing. “You need to understand that we’re talking about a city like Mumbai, where not many have lavish houses to actually be able to set up a workstation or even to practice social distancing. Most of my team members were localities living in 1BHKs with their parents”, shared Waqar. “Those spaces are neither conducive for working nor for maintaining recommended social distance.”

Soon it was evident that the young team of SutraHR was missing the lush, spacious office devoid of any pressure cooker noise. As a result, almost the entire team at SutraHR got back to work as soon as the lockdown mandates were relaxed in June 2020. In our conversation with Waqar, the decision was taken primarily because the people were missed having their own space, enjoying their terrace get-togethers. 

All said and done, they got back keeping all safety precautions in mind. “Given that we have a huge workspace, social distancing was not a problem for the team. And of course, we’d always had the mask and sanitizer handy.”

What Stood Out: Treating Team As Family

While talking to Waqar, we found that one of his team members was tested positive for COVID-19. Sharing the story, Waqar said, “He lived in a small house with his parents where there was no place for him to get isolated. We arranged all his care in one of the rooms at our office. He was isolated here, we looked after him and he recovered soon while his parents were safe.”

Sometimes, it takes being in your employees’ shoes to understand what they need.