The telephonic interview begins at a post-meridien hour, after an energising midday lunch — that is, at this end. At the other end, it shatters the hush of the night. The voice is streaming in from Seattle and is perceptibly fighting off fatigue.
The voice is that of 63-year-old Naresh Purushotham, whose return trip back home to his stomping ground, Fourth Main Road in Gandhi Nagar, is five months overdue.
He was all set to leave Seattle, when the pandemic put paid to the travel plan. The Seattle sojourn — he had accompanied his daughter and grand-daughter as the duo were making a return journey to their home in Seattle — winding on like a boa constrictor, he decided to resume work.
Naresh is a corporate trainer, well-known in his professional circles, and, as he puts it, his organisation offers “modular programmes lasting six or nine months”.
And so, to keep the commitments of these programmes, he had to undergo some training himself in a hurry. It was about digital adoption. Of course, had he been in Chennai, he would have still had to connect with his clients online, and hone his training skills in a digital format.
But doing this in Seattle brought a surreality to the exercise: It was about transcending not just space, but also time.
Two time zones intersect in his training sessions — so, while his clients are taking his lessons during the day, he is actually teaching them at night.
Naresh discloses that he has got accustomed to his new work routine.
“It’s night shift for me every day,” he quips. That should explain why he took this interview at an unearthly hour.
“I told my clients I was willing to work at night,” explains Naresh. “Now people also have more mind space. As they are staying at home in a WFH arrangement, they also saw training as a refreshing break from routine.”
Being up at night was the easy part; greater digital adoption was the challenging one.
He reveals he was accustomed to training people over Skype, but training a classroom of clients online on a sustained basis was a new ball game. For someone who still admits to being biased towards training in brick-and-mortar settings, that clearly called for quite a leap of faith, and more than that, considerable digital upskilling.
“I was watching a number of videos to figure out how effective I could be while conducting training sessions on video platforms such as Zoom and Team,” explains Naresh. “I draw my energy from the people in the training room. Now, as I face them on a video platform, I realise I have to draw energy from myself.”
The content of the training sessions brings its own dimension to the process. Naresh believes training programmes dealing with behavioural change pose an inherent challenge, and call for compensatory mechanisms.
“Only 50 p.c of what you can achieve in a classroom is possible online, and you have to use one-on-one emailing, chat and phone calls as compensatory mechanisms. I have been mixing my online sessions with chats, and connecting with my clients a lot through WhatsApp and Telegram. I particularly have a lot of one-on-one interactions on Telegram with them to supplement the online sessions.”
Naresh believes body language is a huge component of any process of learning, as it may provide the teacher with non-verbal clues into how well the lessons are being received.
“Now, the trainer has to be more tuned in, listen more keenly and ask a lot more questions to make sure the students have listened enough,” he explains.
And then, there will still be additional challenges, such as this one: “Some participants may decide not to switch on the video camera.”
Despite the challenges, the Baby Boomer is enjoying his digital journey, and hopes to crack some unknowns in the days to come. Though he has managed to stick to an effective work schedule, he wants to get back to his stomping ground, Chennai — more precisely, Fourth Main Road, Gandhi Nagar, Adyar.
(The Lockdown Interview is a feature that presents how Chennai residents are coping with unusual pandemic-related challenges)