How to work away from office
A man who served as Microsoft director from a tiny village in Kerala on strategies to offshore your workplace, and convincing your company to let
A man who served as Microsoft director from a tiny village in Kerala on strategies to offshore your workplace, and convincing your company to let you.
Morning meetings. A hurried lunch. Afternoon presentations. Rush hour. Evening chores. No me-time. Little time for family. Welcome to the working professional's harried life in any Indian metro. But, it doesn't have to be that way.
A changing world and an evolving economy are allowing jobs to be reinvented and many companies now rely on a network of experts working from anywhere. Even from Aluva, a small town near Kochi in Kerala.
In his new publication by Penguin, God's Own Office: How One Man Worked for a Global Giant from his Village in Kerala, James Joseph details how he started out from the backwaters of Kerala, climbed the corporate rung in America, and found his way back to his village to continue his successful career. Interestingly, Joseph accomplished the tallest achievement of his working life - winning Microsoft's highest award from CEO Steve Ballmer - after he returned to his village and started working from home in 2009.
In 2012, Joseph quit his job as director of Microsoft India, to set up JackFruit365, a company that supplies freeze-dried jackfruits across the world.
Here, he shares advice on how to work away from the maddening crowd and convince your boss and clients to be okay with it.
There's always a strong current in your favour when moving from your hometown to a big city for work. But the current is against you when you move back. You need unwavering conviction as a family to complete this journey. In my case, the realisation came from a comparison of the first 20 years of my life and the last 20 years. The first 20, a life surrounded by nature, spirituality, farms and many generations of family and friends, prepared me to perform well in the professional world during the last 20. I was convinced that the opportunity to give those first 20 years to my children - without giving up my professional life - was a goal worth pursuing.
Double-up on your back-up
Working from home requires a lot of positive energy, and discipline. Let your family and friends know that you are working from home, not at home. Importantly, if you plan to relocate to a small town, ensure that your office is well versed with technology - use instant messenger for realtime interaction, online and video conferencing, desktop sharing, and remote access. You must also have easy travel connectivity to your base office.
Keep in mind that at God's own office, you are your own Chief Information Officer. It is your decision to work from home and not your employer's, so the onus is on you to make sure you are able to work without interruption.
In an office, the onus is on the IT department to ensure digital connectivity. Plan your back-ups well - broadband connection and power supply. I work with a physical cable, a state telecom department connection and a USB wireless connection.
Keep your secret
Ambient noise is the number one issue faced by employees who try to work from home in India. Customers and colleagues get annoyed when they hear vehicles honking, dogs barking, kids crying or construction work in the background. Ensure you have a sound-proof room to work out of. No one on a conference call needs to know whether you are working from home or another office.
Women can do it too
Women not returning from maternity break are one of the biggest risks faced by major corporations for their already lean leadership pipeline of female candidates. If I have proved to work effectively from the comfort of a home, that too in a village in India, women can do even better.
Work from your home a few days a week before you start maternity leave and again when you are getting back. This could significantly improve your chances of getting back on the leadership pipeline.
Study the business model
Five years after returning to India, I gave up my job at Microsoft. Later, I was at a dinner when I wondered why chefs didn't use jackfruit - known as "vegetable meat" - instead of mushroom in vegetarian dishes.
That is how I struck on the business idea. But, before you make your switch, study the business model and identify areas where you have significant strength and areas where you don't have expertise.
I leveraged my marketing skills, professional networks, cash-flow management and outsourcing experience for the venture. I clearly lacked experience in food processing and hence, outsourced that to a reliable partner. I leveraged my contacts and got various chefs at 5-stars to try new dishes using jackfruit.
For the consumer business, I used an online-only model. This allowed me to offer my product across India; more importantly, they pay first, then materials are dispatched.
Study the risk
There are risks involved in having a niche product like jackfruits. I analysed the overall scope for a jackfruit industry in India to see if it was worth my time. On the supply side, I learned that jackfruit worth Rs 2,000 crore is wasted in India every year.
On the demand side, my trials with chefs convinced me that jackfruit can easily replace potato and apple in almost all dishes. The market for potato and apple is bigger than the total supply of jackfruits in India. These data points gave me the confidence to launch JackFruit365.
The financial aspect
I needed to keep in mind whether I could meet the financial commitments of my family and the new venture till I was able to draw a salary from the business. My cost of living had come down by 30 per cent by moving from Bangalore to my village in Kerala.
In four years, I was able to set aside a fund from this additional saving to cover both financial commitments. For the first few years, I managed the business with tight cash flow management, repositioned jackfruit from an inferior food to superior one with the help of the chefs, and through the social media marketing I ran.
Exploit social media
While I was working for Microsoft, I started mentoring three start-ups from the Kochi Start-up village and I have firsthand experience observing how these youngsters bring new business ideas to the market with relatively low capital investment.
Mentoring them taught me how to leverage social media, crowd sourcing and e-commerce retail channels to keep my investments low at all levels. Mindhelix taught me how to use social media and blogs to reach consumers, WOW Makers taught me the power of crowd sourcing, (JackFruit365's logo and mascot was designed through their CrowdStudio venture), and Yummybay taught me the power of ecommerce (Yummybay is JackFruit365's online retail partner).
Teja Lele Desai