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Making a phone call had never fazed Santosh Kumar Bandari. But as the technical recruiter picked up the phone one mid-April day, he felt a tiny frisson of apprehension. It was the first time the 27-year-old was making a sales call to a prospective client. Since work in recruitment dried up within weeks of lockdown in March, Bandari has started working in sales as well. In the two months he’s spent in sales, he has closed “a decent-sized deal" for his company Sonik Consulting.

A number of companies and startups dealing with a slowdown in business due to covid-19 are retraining staff to work in other roles to avoid layoffs and furloughs. In some cases, a shift to working from home has left employees in specialized roles with little or no work. Employees, on their part, are readily accepting extra responsibilities, given the fear of job security.

“After the lockdown, the company was not hiring and my work came down drastically so I thought I’d work on sales too," says Bandari, whose designation now reads business development executive and technical recruiter. “I had a fair knowledge of our products and got a little more training," he says.

For Sonik Consulting, which rolled out web video conferencing and screen sharing platform Webkonf Meetings during the lockdown, covid-19 has driven realignments in roles. Apart from Bandari, the three employees in office administration have taken on work from other departments. “It’s effective utilization of resources. I didn’t anticipate they would do well but they’ve been very engaged. It has generated lot of positive energy in other teams as well. We are formalizing a policy where anyone who goes beyond their brief will get a percentage of the sales bonus in their appraisal along with recognition," says Ram Malay, founder of Sonik Consulting.

At Shermaroo Entertainment, video editors have been trained to handle customer service and sales. Due to the nature of their work, the company’s eight editors found themselves sitting idle at home from March. The company, meanwhile, noticed that customers were not renewing subscriptions to the OTT platform. “We wanted to understand what was happening. So, we trained the editors for a week on three fronts—our products, speaking etiquette and selling skills. There were teething problems initially but after a few calls, they were rock stars," says Zubin Dubash, COO, Digital, Shemaroo Entertainment. In two months, the “inexperienced team" generated nearly 10% of sales units, Dubash adds. Besides getting recognition within the organization, the editors were monetarily compensated on per sales basis.

Gurugram-based fintech company Clix Capital has been reskilling since the team moved to working remotely. As they there was lot of business uncertainty, the company decided to put everyone through training in all verticals, including AI and machine learning, says Neha Gupta, head of learning and development, Clix Capital.

It led to some employees realizing they liked other roles better: one person from the credit team shifted to analytics, and a member of sales team joined the product team. “People are excited, and it’s keeping the mood up," says Gupta.

Soon after the lockdown, mPokket moved its customer acquisition team to collections as the work in the former had reduced. mPokket gives small-ticket loans, primarily to college students, and with the lockdown, many defaulted. “Our manpower need in collections has doubled since covid-19. The volume of loan defaults had increased. Realigning people to the need gave the team a sense of job security as well as helped us retain loyalty," says Kolkata-based founder Gaurav Jalan.

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