Responding to a crisis: Meeting workers’ needs

Indian technology company Loadshare employs over 6,000 independent contractors and small and medium-sized enterprises in India’s logistics sector. The drivers are not salaried employees of Loadshare and so do not have the traditional ties to their employer. However, Co-founder and CEO Raghuram Talluri believes companies such as his should still be committed to understanding the motivations and needs of their workers, as the ability for them to attract and retain a motivated workforce is key to business success.

“There has to be trust between the businesses and these frontline guys, and hearing them is a first step,” says Raghuram.
“And then we can take action around what we hear. It is showing them that we care.”

Loadshare enables small-scale motorbike and lorry drivers to increase their incomes by being able to provide their services to much bigger clients. We invested in Loadshare in 2018 through a fund managed by Stellaris Venture Partners. Stellaris made the investment in Loadshare based, in part, on an ambition to create impact through employment opportunities and to tackle some of the recurrent and intractable job quality challenges in the Indian labour market

To date, Loadshare has rolled out numerous initiatives aimed at improving communications and information flows for the approximately 6,000 independent contractors on its platform. This includes providing training and using Noticeboard, a mobile application to engage with its dispersed blue-collar workforce.

But when COVID-19 hit, the company wanted not only to keep in contact with its workforce but also to learn about individuals’ needs and priorities.
The pandemic meant the need for Loadshare to communicate and understand the needs of its workers became even more acute.

In late 2020, Loadshare and CDC decided to undertake a telephone survey with a representative sample of workers. The survey was managed as part of the worker engagement and protection facility established by CDC Plus, our technical assistance and support facility started, to support our investees respond to the challenges of the pandemic.

The results of the survey are being used by the company to help ensure they are an employer of choice for drivers and addressing any concerns individuals may have about returning to work in a COVID-context. The pandemic has had a severe impact on the labour market, with many workers vulnerable to income loss, layoffs, and displacement. However, Loadshare has managed to retain most of its workforce by shifting its business model to focus on cold-chain and grocery deliveries.

The survey was also helpful to identify gaps in Loadshare’s communications with its drivers, which it is now addressing. While the company had taken out insurance for its drivers during COVID, the survey found that many were not aware of this benefit and therefore had residual concerns about working during the pandemic. In response to the survey, the company has also introduced a more accessible grievance redress system built into its existing workers’ app.

“If you have an issue, you can log it, and then we’ll triage it and figure out the best way to address it. I think psychologically for them, they know that the company cares enough about them to be asking for feedback or that management wants to be told if you have a problem. It is important they know there is a way for them to voice their opinion,” says Raghuram.

The survey also provided a vital opportunity for the team to identify what measures can be taken to improve worker retention. Attracting and retaining drivers is a key business growth bottleneck for a company like Loadshare. With a growing number of last-mile delivery platforms coming to market in India, competition for customers as well as drivers is increasing.

“Before the survey, we didn’t have a formal way of knowing the demographics of our people,” explains Raghuram.  “I think it’s important to know who these people are. It’s important to know, what is their skill set? What can they develop into? And why are they doing the job? These are all important questions if you want to develop trust between you and your workforce.”

And there is a very clear correlation between people who stay on the platform, their productivity and their earnings for both for themselves as well as for us.”

One insight from the survey revealed that motorbike drivers have a notably high turnover within the company as many are university graduates who are able to afford their own bike, but then move on as it is not their long-term career goal.

“I think this type of engagement, going a little deeper into their demographics profile, really opened our eyes and made the work we needed to do a lot clearer. It is about turning spreadsheet numbers into human beings, who have wants and needs and then figuring out what role the company plays in that and how, by helping them, you get a more productive, more motivated, more stable workforce.”

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