Industry Best Practices & Top Insights delivered to your Inbox.
Blog People

Pouring the Tea in Productivity

Swapnil Borkar Swapnil Borkar, Product Design Manager at CleverTap, oversees design for CleverTap for Startups. A Google-recognized expert, he mentors startups and has worked for BookMyShow, Paytm, and Haptik.
Pouring the Tea in Productivity

Opposed to occasional work-related posts, I wanted this blog post to be different and focused on walking through a few of the more difficult problems of today’s times of a world struck with a pandemic: loneliness, isolation, and low or plateauing productivity.
While working from home was considered productive with the freedom it offers to focus on a task and subdue distractions, the opposite of the same is achieved when people work for longer times remotely. The sense of serendipity and team bonding is lost. Here’s a study by Deloitte UK on the well-being of employees during the lockdown and the affected productivity and Slack’s recent study on how a sense of belonging is lost while we closet ourselves in cabin fever (hopefully, not literally!).
Now, I could go all roundabout on how productivity is a set of tools and how I use my Pomodoro timer to be productive and my productivity stack, but this blog post isn’t about that. I wanted to focus on something far more important, the importance of close relationships with the people you work with beyond the usual work we all do and strive for.
I learned a few concepts and learnings from my visit to the GDG Leads Summit 2019 in Sunnyvale, California, which often translate from community building and helping build productive and high-performing teams.
Here’s one slide that really struck me by Elise Birkhofer.
Close relationships with people at work and in the community helped delay the mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.
Ground-in authenticity helps boost engagement and truly digging deep into the culture of the organization being more dynamic and adapting to change by simply bringing their authentic selves to work than being resistant to change. Here’s a great read on authentic organizations in the Irish Times how this trait benefits businesses. Also, having a shared vision is a must which must be big!
An in-person connection is irreplaceable.
One of the key reasons people are productive is also due to the things they do apart from work beyond work. This is where I believe the European concept of work comes in where people believe, work is a small part of life, and work-life balance plays an important part in why successful teams build better when they have the mental bandwidth to think and socialize.
However today, there’s a gap we see here because well, due to the pandemic we’re all at home. I have been an advocate of remote work for the longest time but you still need to have a life outside of your home. This simply doesn’t cut it. Even when I was working part-time remotely as a chat assistant at Haptik, back in the day, we still used to meet weekly on Tuesdays to retrospect. This kept the team on their toes and involved with what’s up.
As mentioned by Nir Eyal in his book, In-distractable, two quotes really hit me:
Loneliness isn’t only depressing; it’s deadly.
Friendships don’t die. They starve to death.
These might seem too morbid, but they’re true.
While we all work from home today until we learn to live with the “new normal,” we don’t get to see people we work with anymore, understand what’s happening in their lives, have those small quirky watercooler conversations, or just in general, see their faces (ugly or drop-dead gorgeous or both) and understand emotion, see what they are more than work and go beyond their work-life and try to solve their problems, professional, and personal.
How do we solve this? I don’t have the answer to this but I can tell you what we have done so far at CleverTap to make things seem slightly better in the pandemic, at least for me, and hopefully for more people in the organization.
We do weekly fun sessions on Friday, we call #Friyay to let the team get involved in activities spanning beyond work but still making the team bond well and laugh often. Sometimes, this is Pictionary ( and other times, it’s random discussions on life, catching up without an agenda, and sometimes discussions on trending topics in the world of design.
We have a bi-weekly product team sync where people around the globe join for half an hour on Zoom to discuss certain impulsively picked themes, such as maybe what we’re reading this week or coming to the call with a certain word and what it means, in a different language, and sometimes themed fancy dresses or bringing something completely out of the blue onto the call.
We have a half an hour call with the CPO, Vishal Anand, to talk about the future of the product, halfway around the globe, and talk details to know where we’re headed as a product-led growth organization, as well as discuss directly with a skip-level meeting to raise any and all questions we have.
We have a company-wide slack to know what to binge-watch, read, and listen to aptly named #Quarantino.
We have a culture-champions group with the CEO that discusses ideas and how can we inculcate our six values and the CleverTap culture into the mind of every CTzen (Yes, that’s what we call employees internally) and discuss innovative ideas (This is still supposed to be under the wraps! Shhh!).
We did a Virtual Secret Santa across the Product team to bring a smile onto faces with gifts and a lot of happiness as the Year-That-Shall-Not-Be -Named ends. Also, the company sent a cool hoodie and sweater with a sweet note from the CEO as the year came to an end.
We sometimes get people like the founders themselves to tell some fascinating moments in their lives and often have other people from businesses like InnerSight have Employee Assistance Program take sessions, where anonymous mental health support is provided to employees free of cost; Gold’s Gym to debunk fitness myths and shedding few inches off the waistline everyone has gained during the lockdowns. Finance and wealth are discussed too to help make smarter investment moves.
We have frequent all-hands to catch up on all business updates and at times have a celebration on zoom call for a closed deal with some of the largest businesses that were happy and stunned by the effort we took to make their lives simpler by customizing to their needs. This is also communicated internally through founder notes on the highlights, lows, and action points everyone in the company should focus on.
And of course, as the world is getting a little safer than usual, we plan frequent meetings in open cafes and “socially-distant” places to connect, talk, play board games, munch on delicious food, and bond as a team in a limited capacity.
“The cost of being able to connect with anyone in the world is that we might not be fully present with the person physically next to us.”
And, to everyone out there who would want to see your peers do well, make sure you check on them beyond just on what they’re working on from time to time. Hopefully, everyone will move to a hybrid model of working soon where teams and squads can come together and sync once a week or a month to eradicate the loneliness if not the virus.
And if you want to be a part of our growing team, make sure you check our Careers page—it’s a living thing too and needs to be checked on as well.
Here’s to the next time when we can see, interact (and build) in public soon! ✌️

Posted on June 10, 2021