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May 13, 2020 | 4 Minute Read

Sustaining Hope At Work In A Post-COVID World

Table of Contents


At the end of December 2019, I moved in with my friends in Bangalore, India, taking my two cats along and leaving my parents behind in the capital city of Delhi. 

I'd planned for my parents to visit me a couple of months later, and the first thing I did once I got settled in was to book their flights. 

On March 14th 2020, I canceled my parents' tickets. 

I'd spent the last few days reeling from the news of COVID-19 cases in Italy and China. I'd grown increasingly worried for myself and my friends and family in other parts of the world. 

I wondered whether I'd be able to see any of my loved ones again. 

I sought out more information as I tried to learn what I could do to protect everyone I cared about, only to be smacked in the face with the realization that I had no control over what was coming. 

Anxiety had sunk its knees full into my chest and paralyzed me, and my motivation was gone. I spent a couple of days trying to go on working per my usual routine, but feeling exhausted, distraught, and unable to do anything much. 

It wasn't until the following week that I was able to start having an honest conversation with my manager.

We discussed what was happening to me, and what I needed to do to get back on track. 

I took a couple of days off, spending them painting at my desk, away from the news and away from work. When I came back to work, I began with limited hours for the first day or two. Slowly, my motivation returned, as did my productivity. 

In subsequent weeks, as the news continued to get bleaker, I heard from friends that they had been feeling similarly—sad, distressed, and anxious. And I heard of other professionals who were feeling grief-stricken, unsafe, overwhelmed, alone. 

I’m fortunate that unlike many, I work at a fully remote agency that’s (so far) not been affected greatly by COVID-19, at least in terms of our operations. 

On the 22nd of March, our CEO, Ankur Gupta, put out an announcement in our company Slack, acknowledging the global crisis and hoping for the well-being of all team members and their loved ones. 

"Right now, when everyone is trying hard to figure out how to maintain business continuity, we are fortunate that we’ve built a resilient remote-working model that has been put to test for 7+ years. But we are also conscious that our lives outside of work have changed significantly and that each one of us is required to go beyond the normal in these trying times. We want to make sure that you have what you need—and that when there’s anything we can do for you as your place of work, that you let us know."

The message touched on what was certain and uncertain about the future, and informed us about decisions that were being implemented until these uncertainties could be resolved. 

1 - Reflections on Axelerant's COVID response

Also on March 22nd, our team coach, Mridulla Harshvardhan, announced that she would be extending her work hours so that she could be more available for team members until COVID-19 was dealt with. 

2 - Reflections on Axelerant's COVID response

She’s been working ceaselessly since to make sure that people are getting the support they need. 

I've spent a good portion of the past 2-3 years trying to articulate what makes Axelerant special. 

As a marketer and a wordsmith, being able to articulate and passionately champion this ties directly into my professional mission. But I've found I resonate with something in Axelerant’s culture on a deeper level. And I've been trying to name that hard-to-define thing for years. 

Here's what I've come to believe. 

In most of the working world, we still look at people like they're cogs in a machine

People aren’t seen as people but "resources" to be "optimized."

We don't consider how much the nature of work has changed over the past few centuries. 

We idealize efficiency, productivity, economies of scale, just as employers did when the world’s workforce was primarily engaged in manufacturing—wholly different from the knowledge work that many of us engage in now. 

Axelerant is the only place I've worked where I see that idea being steadily challenged. 

Which isn't to say that we don't value efficiency as well. But that we consciously keep in view that what we have here is an organization made up of creative, talented individuals with their own aspirations and a shared purpose—not an assembly line. 

We genuinely care about and invest in our people. And we’ve consistently found that when people get the support they need, they do all they can to help fulfil the organization’s mission. 

Our people are our superpower, and we do our best to nurture and uplift them. 

The world is shifting, and we must be ready to adapt to a changing reality. 

COVID-19 teaches us this same lesson, imposing a much harsher penalty on those who fail to adapt. 

And the extraordinary circumstances we’re in easily expose the best and the worst in our leaders, and the actual lived values of organizations, beyond those that we simply cite on an intellectual level. 

It shows us what really matters to us at our core. 

Once I had taken some time away and accepted that this unfamiliar, uncertain world is the one we live in now, I was able to come back to work with renewed energy and focus. Because I also realized how lucky I am to have so much that others have lost, or never had in the first place. 

My parents might not be able to visit me anytime soon, but that doesn’t stop me from engaging more deeply with them on regular video calls. If anything, our relationship has grown because of this crisis. 

And I know now without a shadow of doubt that I work at a place that supports me, affirms my needs and my experiences, values me and strives to uplift me in any way possible. 

We have no idea if we’ll ever return to normal, or what the new normal will look like. 

What we can know for sure is that our honesty and authenticity is what everyone needs right now. With reality shifting around us, we desperately need to be able to retain our faith in people. We need to be able to sustain hope for ourselves and everyone around us. 

This isn’t the time to be opportunistic. It’s the time to put employee safety above all else, and to invest in creating a sense of stability, resilience and cautious optimism in the workplace. 

Unprecedented crises call for unprecedented solutions. 

And while there’s no easy escape from this crisis, I've never been prouder of the fact that I work at Axelerant. Or more glad for the fact that the words and the values we look to as an organization are the same as the ones that I choose to anchor me in my personal lifeespecially in times of crisis. 

About the Author
Madhura Birdi, Axelerant Alumni
About the Author

Madhura Birdi, Axelerant Alumni

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