Nurturing a fast-growing remote team in 2020

Read more about the journey of the People Function at Recko and how we scaled an entire team during the pandemic.

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin– Tony Robbins

The journey of the People Function at Recko started in January 2020. They say well begun is half done. However, to say that this year started with uncertainty would be an understatement.

Looking back, it can be said without a doubt that there were tremendous growth opportunities; for us as an individual, and for the organization as a whole. And as it always is with growth, it only happens outside your comfort zone. As you work toward the goals that you set for yourself, you will inevitably experience challenges and fail. But failures always bring with it an opportunity to learn. To learn what works, you must know what doesn’t. However, failures are commas and not a full stop. It is important to pick yourself up and move ahead. In the fast-growing fintech ecosystem, it is essential to avoid making the same mistake twice. And with that mindset in place, here are some things we have learned together along the way.

People Function and not Human Resources

The first decision made when we started building the function was to name it the People Function and not Human Resources. Human resources as a function get optimized around compliance but we wanted to optimize it around bringing the best out of Recko’s human capital. Given the fast-paced nature, we get caught in the day-to-day of work and tend to forget that in the end, it really is about the people. They are the ones who drive the business and facilitate growth. At Recko, we are a group of people who have come together to achieve a shared mission and business goals. And calling the team People Function would ensure that it would be a constant reminder of the approach we would take in any situation.

Pandemic Onset

Within a few months into the year, the pandemic started to spread in the country. But we were just growing — we had closed our Series A round from Vertex Ventures and were looking to expand the team and the business.

But Safety First

The first priority was the safety of everyone at Recko. We started by establishing a set of workplace norms that everyone would have to strictly follow for their own safety and for the safety of others. We ensured that everyone has access to masks and were wearing them at all times. We placed sanitizers at each workstation and encouraged anyone who had the faintest hint of a symptom to stay at home. However, within a few weeks, we knew that this wouldn’t be enough. Additionally, given that we were working out of a coworking space, we couldn’t mitigate the risks and decided that we needed a more effective solution to this. On March 13 2020 we went into indefinite WFH. Our first big remote working challenge was to ensure that business continuity is maintained and we figure out avenues to grow in the context of the ‘new normal’.

Given the very nature of pandemics, we knew that it would bring with it various physical, emotional, and psychological stressors. And while some of them can’t be avoided, we were certain that we wanted to provide adequate support should it ever be needed. To start with, we added COVID-19 treatment as part of our insurance plan extended to our employees and their families. Apart from this, we also added therapy consultations to our plan.

Establishing communication within teams

We set up and circulated guidelines that would become the basis of us working from home. We established this framework to ensure that while we have to physically and socially maintain a distance, we are not operating in isolation. We laid emphasis on transparency and knowledge sharing. Transparency is one of the core cultural values at Recko. One of the keys to implementing that is to ensure that everyone across the organization is able to access information as and when they want to. In order to implement this core cultural value, we ensure that a majority of our communications across the organization is done over Slack on public channels; ensuring that everyone has visibility on what’s happening to feel connected and reduce information asymmetry. We emphasized on over-communicating to avoid any potential misunderstandings.

At the start of working from home, we had a People Manager catch up weekly to gauge success and to ensure the business was running as smoothly as it could. We used these catch-ups to also identify and fix any blockers that we previously did not anticipate or account for. Once business was moving along at a sweet pace, the next hurdle to jump over was hiring and onboarding.

Onboarding new candidates during the pandemic

By now, it was fairly evident that the pandemic was here to stay and before the lockdown, we had already made offers for people to join our team. We wanted to honor that commitment from our end and get them onboard. We tackled both of these problems one at a time. For all those who accepted offers to join Recko, we planned a remote onboarding program. The first and most important part was to make sure that they had a way to work with us. At the peak of the lockdown, it was a bit difficult to arrange for laptops for everybody (especially for those who were not operating out of the same city). And we had to make do with temporary arrangements at the start. But with other businesses figuring out a way to ensure continuity, we knew this opened up a few avenues for us. Through some research, from some leads and after multiple conversations, we were able to tie up with a vendor who could deliver company laptops across the country. With this sorted, we knew there was very little we could not achieve should we put our minds to it.

Scaling the teams

The next challenge was recruitment. We realized that given the rate at which we plan to grow, recruitment cannot take a back seat. It has to be at the front and center of our attention for the foreseeable future and we went all hands on deck there. To ensure precisely that, we expanded the People Function and got an in-house recruiter.

We were aware of the massive task that we were undertaking and we wanted to ensure that we had a buy-in from all stakeholders while hiring. We started to have daily catch ups for updates on hiring and would discuss the pipeline, feedback, and next steps. We would only move forward with any individual if all stakeholders were convinced with it. Thus, we set about interviewing and onboarding remotely.

But challenges accompanied us. Given the situation with the pandemic, the layoffs, and the general uncertainty, a lot of people we approached for an opportunity with us, hesitated. The hesitation was because we were a new organization and they were not entirely comfortable with leaving a steady job to take another one up (especially one in an up and coming startup). Here is where we used the journey of Recko, the vision of the founders, the product, and how it is the need of the hour to encourage them to think about the opportunity and the possible ways they will grow and scale with Recko. It was a difficult undertaking. We had to deal with last-minute dropouts, folks accepting offers from late-stage companies, and people joining us only to leave in a few days. This would lead to us changing timelines and plans.

The frustration couldn’t have been higher. But we persevered. We put our heads down and knew what we wanted to achieve. The only way was to not let these small obstacles take away from us what we have already accomplished and what lay ahead. And it is a matter of pride for us all that not only did we not lay off a single employee but we doubled in strength during the lockdown.

Another challenge with recruitment was to ensure that the company we build stays true to its values. While setting up the recruitment process, we insisted that each conversation with a candidate be a two-way street. A cultural fitment is not assessed in one conversation with the People Function (either at the start or at the end) but is an ongoing fitment check that needs to be done at every stage of the interview process. This way all the puzzle pieces would fit together well to form the larger picture. There is no point in force-fitting a piece that does not belong in your puzzle. We made sure that we gave each individual an opportunity to evaluate us as potential employers just as much as we are evaluating them as potential employees. If the alignment is right at the start, the journey later will be a fruitful one with mutual growth, respect, and success.

Engagement within teams

With hiring and onboarding taken care of, the next hurdle to pass and overcome was engagement. We have built a passionate, ambitious, and driven team that shares cultural value. However, most of them have not (and will not for a while either) have an opportunity to meet me in person and get to know each other. A meet and greet won’t happen in an organic manner anymore. Like I mentioned earlier, we did not want to work in isolation. While setting up structure was important, it was equally important to remind everyone that we cannot work without cooperation and interaction. We had to focus on making connecting with others a priority. To ensure a strong connection, we established an engagement group at work. The group was in charge of creating spaces for everyone to interact and get to know each other. We knew that people are social and just need an opportunity to break the ice. Once we set the ball rolling on these activities, we found people bond over mutual interests despite working remote and restricted engagements. And all this while, we internally insist on a ‘camera on’ policy so while we are physically distancing ourselves, we are not virtually distancing too.

Empowering people in need with Covid funds.

With all this happening internally, we could not ignore the problems outside either. This pandemic has affected almost everyone; but not equally. We’re aware that we were in a place of privilege. We have the luxury to be able to work from home while staying safe. And we wanted to be there for those who were not as fortunate as we were. We established a covid fund with voluntary contributions. In fact, our founders contributed their entire salaries for the month. We hoped that this small gesture on our behalf would make someone else’s life more comfortable.

Sailing towards the future

With all that set, we are now looking forward to 2021. This year has somehow gone by extremely fast and has been excruciatingly slow at the same time. It has been a year of change, uncertainty, adaptation, and most importantly a year of opportunities. Through it all, we have learned and we have grown. With each hardship we have dealt with, we have improved for the better. It was through sheer force of will that we were able to not let this year impact us negatively. Instead, we embraced the challenges, and with it grew stronger; the business and its people.

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