Responding to a crisis: Keeping workers connected during a pandemic

“When COVID hit, one of the very early realisations for us was just how unfair the world is,” says Vishal Gahlaut, co-Founder and CEO of tech company Noticeboard. “For my team, which is mostly a software development team, it was relatively easy for us to work from home.

“But others, who are in the business of moving goods from one place to another, cannot work from home.”

Equality in the workplace is something Vishal thinks about a lot. In 2016 he co-founded Noticeboard – a platform which allows businesses to communicate with their field teams and run trainings remotely – when he realised how difficult it was for business leaders to reach their teams in the field. Delivery personnel, taxi drivers, retail associates all fall into this group comprising a large segment of the workforce in India. Everyone had a smart phone, but internally businesses were still relying on outdated communication methods.

“If I must reach out to my office colleague, I contact him over email. But if I must reach out to a colleague who’s in the logistics field, the only way to do that is via his supervisor, who will then post a notice on the physical bulletin board,” explains Gahlaut. “And then it’s anyone’s guess who the message has reached.”

The team developed the Noticeboard platform, which enables companies to communicate with their staff and enables field teams to reach their employers and leadership teams. The app is built for the needs of the 300 million non-desk workers in India who are part of the formal economy but do not have an email account. CDC Group has been an in-direct investor in Noticeboard since 2017, through India-based Stellaris Venture Partners.

When COVID hit in early 2020, Vishal and the team at Noticeboard began thinking about how they could use their software to help businesses communicate critical information during the pandemic. Blue collar workers who couldn’t stay at home were vulnerable financially and health-wise. Added to that, they also faced a storm of online misinformation around COVID.

“Very early on we realised that as a company which depends on these workers, we needed to do something to make the world safer for them,” says Gahlaut.

The team began two projects; the first to create a series of accessible content to address the online proliferation of false information around the crisis; and the second to open their app to smaller businesses – it was originally targeting those with over 1,000 employees.

The first project was focused on getting clear and accurate information to as many people as possible, giving field workers health and safety advice in their own language. Encouraged by CDC Plus, CDC’s technical assistance facility, the team devised a content plan focused on health and safety during the crisis, with information including what to do if you have a fever and addressing the stigma around falling ill and returning to work.

“We are a corporate entity, and all the content we’ve created in the past is commercial training content, so this was a new space for us,” adds Gahlaut.

Despite setting an initial target of 15 videos to reach 100,000 people, Noticeboard has so far produced over 250 videos in 8 languages and collaborated with healthcare NGOs and the Government to identify the topics with the greatest impact.  In total the videos have been viewed by over one and a half million people, with several attracting over 200,000 views each. Distribution was a core part of the team’s work and that’s where corporate partnerships paid off. The company recently formed a partnership with Indian social media platform Sharechat; the biggest vernacular social media platform in the country with over 130 million users.

“If you’re producing a short funny video it’s much more likely that it will pick up steam than one telling people how to wash their hands,” says Gahlaut. But we made it conversational and engaging; it’s informational yet not boring. And that helped in really driving the viewership and reach as many people as we did.”

The second initiative, which will launch on app stores this month, is a simple version of the original Noticeboard app, designed specifically for small business needs. The team hopes to bring around 50 businesses onto the platform and has adapted existing services, such as their website, to be more search friendly and easily discoverable.

The new tool is accompanied by additional apps to help smaller businesses make the most of Noticeboard – both how to get started on it and how to operate it day-to-day. By the end of the project, the process of getting a company onto Noticeboard and using it regularly will be entirely self-sufficient, without any input necessary from the Noticeboard team.

For the Noticeboard team, helping smaller businesses use Noticeboard is critical as they have seen how these organisations have struggled to communicate with workers during the pandemic. COVID has meant that while workforce communication has become even more important many smaller businesses that had previously relied on physical noticeboards, or morning briefings can no longer do so.

In the future, the Noticeboard team want to support as many SMEs as possible to use their new app once it is live, in the hope that it will help teams safely navigate the ongoing crisis and recover faster once it is over.

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