Vitamin: How Hundreds of Employees Drew Nourishment in a Crisis

Vikas Joshi
June 25, 2020

On the evening of March 24, when all Harbinger employees went home, we knew little what was to come next. When will India reopen for business? How will remote work play out? Will we miss running into each other? We were pretty well-connected on email, phone, WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom, and such. So, we kind of knew we would get by. But nothing really prepared us for the real surprise. And surprise it was and how! On Day 1 of working from home, Team Harbinger started getting together online daily for 30 minutes to smile, share, and strengthen the bond that finds its roots 30 years ago. Very quickly, the ritual took a life of its own, and here we are 90 days later: better bonded, more together, knowing each other better!

When Harbinger Group’s top leaders set priorities for a 100% work-from-home scenario, one thing that made its way to the top was “how to continue having those light moments we look forward to every day”. In leader-speak, they called it ensuring the psychological safety of employees. Employees badly missed the workplace and needed their daily interactions with their friends and peers.

Enter Vitamin

Thus, every day at 4 PM, we all decided to zoom together for a quick half-hour break. Comfortable with a cup of tea or coffee, everyone settled in for a new experience. We decided to name this online company social Vitamin, short for virtual mingling. When Vitamin started with dozen-odd employees, I was going: Is everyone else so busy?

The next day we had over a hundred people online. When the count grew to a few hundred, I started wondering, do they not have other meetings? Just kidding.

Vitamin turned out to be fun. Many of us kept losing track of time. Neville Postwalla, an HR leader and our host, had to rein in and keep us from going over the half-hour. Although quite informal, each meeting had one or two anchor items such as someone playing music, singing, showing their art, or sharing their experiences of travel and adventure.

What did people do there? Just about anything. We polled online, played games, answered trivia quizzes, and took part in contests. People showed recipes, gave us tours of their homes and gardens, told stories, gave fitness workouts, showcased photography, and gave talks on all manner of topics. One of our marketing executives says, “I got to know so many new talents in Harbinger!” The audience participation was phenomenal. Often the chat scrolled faster than you could read.

These 30 minutes gave Team Harbinger the perfect platform to celebrate each other and feel stronger together. These interactions built individual confidence and mutual trust. No wonder our fundraiser for helping others received a generous response. What unfolded before my eyes was a vivid illustration of the power of togetherness.

Going Wider

As days passed, children and other family members got curious about Vitamin when they saw Team Harbinger having a perfect “me time”. They were not content with just watching. Some of these kids come on screen, showcase their artistic talents, and added to the fun we all were experiencing. Harbinger was no longer just a company where mom or dad worked, but a place full of interesting people.

In due course, someone suggested: Why don’t we invite customers? How about guest speakers? Despite time zone differences, a customer executive got up early to share in Vitamin what is going on in their neighborhood in Florida. A north pole expeditioner showed stunning pictures of his journey. An environmentalist, a personal trainer, a counselor, and a wellness expert all talked to the group and answered questions. They brought new energy to the group.

Making Meaning Together

I made it a point to be there every day, no matter what else was going on. My calendar was always open for Vitamin. From telling jokes to sharing thoughts, I did whatever time permitted. As CEO, I presented a monthly situation review to the online group. The review gave a concise picture of the state of the industry, how the company was doing, and where we wanted to focus next. We polled people to get a sense of how they were feeling. Harbinger exec team and I answered questions and made sure that people ‘went home’ content and satisfied.

As one of our designers puts it, “Several of my friends had lost their jobs and the business environment was uncertain. I was so glad to see and hear the senior management regularly share company updates and reassure that everything was working fine for us.” A business development manager agrees, “It was important to know how the markets are changing and how our company is responding to those [changes]. We also understood that learning something new is necessary to stay ahead of the competition.”

All I can say is, Vitamin had many shades to it.

Onward We Sail

Shops have opened, traffic is back on roads, and people have started streaming into offices. Life is slowly returning to someplace that looks more normal than the past 90 days. Time has come to close the curtains on Vitamin. Yet, many people are asking for more! Why is that? Maybe we have discovered something magnetic here. And it will continue to evolve as we find newer and newer ways to interact.

Vitamin, Harbinger’s favorite daily online social, concludes today with a grand finale. Vitamin gave us a perfect opportunity to celebrate wins, bond together, make sense of things, and feel stronger. It will go down as a fond memory of the summer of 2020 for many of us at Harbinger.