Travel startup bosses are devising simple techniques to keep teams positive and help foster creativity as they adapt to virtual working in these difficult times.
Many mention over-communication as the overriding principle, with increased online meetings, including time for fun elements, now a weekly, sometimes daily, part of startup life.
Andres Collart, CEO of TripNinja, says: “With everyone on lockdown, it’s more important than ever to check in on people and ensure they’re doing ok from a mental health standpoint. We have started doing daily 10-minute video calls where we just chat and joke around."
Saniya Shah, CEO of airline disruption startup Pilota, borrowed a traffic-light technique from a fellow startup founder whereby employees use red, amber or green to describe their current status.
“It helps us communicate with each other better and also helps with what tone to use with people.”
Matthew Holman, a mental health consultant, says it has never been more important for people to stay connected, be open about how they’re feeling and “encourage each other to remain as mentally and physically healthy as possible.”
He adds that any communication, as well as the tone, “has to be relevant, factual, accurate and - most importantly -supportive.
“At this time it is really important to make sure that whatever we are saying helps the reader to understand that we are all going through a whole change of emotions. We have to normalize this, we have to make sure people know it is okay to feel concern, but that when we feel concerned we have to talk about this with others and not feel scared of consequences.”
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Other travel startups have come up with their own takes on staying connected and upbeat.
Corporate travel technology startup Taptrip says it has run its own version of MTV Cribs, while Comtravo, another corporate travel startup, says it posts a “good morning” video on the company chat to “boost team spirit.”
“Employees can use this as a way to say hello to the entire company or show their creative film-making skills.”
It adds that for special occasions such as workshops, it has arranged for pizza to be delivered to team members.
Comtravo also says that providing “transparency and security to the entire company during this time” is important.
“We try to make sure that every employee is up to date when it comes to current developments. The HR team, in particular, invested a lot of time in order to answer all questions related to reduced working hours and to talk about the employees’ individual situations.”
Holman stresses that in staying connected in different ways, companies also need to make sure everyone feels a part of the event or activity.
“We need to make sure that we take into consideration so many elements, some people don't like to be on video - that is okay. Some people are naturally introverted and don't want to wear funny clothes to calls - that is okay, and some people are really struggling to cope with the isolation and loneliness - and that is okay.”
He also talks about “cognitive reframing” as a means to encourage positive thinking.
“For instance when the crisis started and we had to put restrictions on our movement and social interaction (in the physical sense), people said, 'My friends and I can't see each other' ... if we learn to reframe this we should say, 'My friends and I are protecting each other.' This is exactly the same for workplaces. We are protecting each other by making our current sacrifices.”
There’s no doubt that keeping everyone positive also helps nurture creativity, and online huddles from small startup teams have seen them come up with strategies that should help them emerge from the coronavirus crisis stronger.
Much has been written in the past, as well as more recently, about innovation in a crisis.
A recent Harvard Business Review article looks at how crises bring about innovation and can cause an energy boost within teams, which can be channeled around specific projects.
Giving teams a focus also speaks to people’s desire for a plan in a crisis, as referenced by Jeff Katz, CEO of Journera.
Having led a number of travel companies through crises, he says that people “don’t need clarity about outcome, but they need a plan.”
Tastemakers Africa says it managed to organize a virtual conference in three days and attracted more than 1,400 participants:
“As a team we're leaning into the creativity of the moment and really getting everyone involved in the creative process no matter the role. A lot of it is about looking to this crisis as a unique window of experimentation where revenue is not the expectation but loyalty and engagement is.”
Alex Govoreanu, CEO of Questo, says that while many startups have gone into hibernation mode, it might not be the best strategy.
“You can use this time to develop products that will be revenue-generating for when the lockdown lifts."
His message to the tours and activities segment is to rethink hibernation.
“Put effort into what you can do now to recover early. I'm not a fan of waiting for things to come back for me to wake up. Think ahead about how people will explore afterwards and put your product there. The time to adapt is now."
These are challenging times, but there is a lot of positivity out there and a great deal of good practice, with teams helping each other to keep going as well as helping other companies.
Boyd Cohen, CEO of mobility as a service platform Iomob, acknowledges that it is hard to keep everyone going but feels entrepreneurs don’t really have a choice.
“We are used to rejection (from investors, from clients, etc.) and failure is always an option for startups. This is a marathon not a sprint, and those that survive 2020 intact will be in great position to emerge after the crisis even stronger.”