The COVID-19 pandemic is by far the most disruptive humanitarian and economic crisis to hit the world since the first half of the twentieth century that saw the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, and the two World Wars. And as crises of this magnitude usually do, it has thrown the world into a tailspin characterized by a number of unknown variables and uncertainty.
Sometimes a good plan is not good enough
Like most modern organizations, we at Cyient also had a robust Business Continuity Plan (BCP) to help us during such disruptions. But, as the Prussian military leader Field Marshal Helmuth Moltke famously said, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” This came true for us when we put our BCP to action as soon as a lockdown seemed imminent. The scale of disruption was something no one had planned for—it was global as it was extensive and not limited to a region, a few cities, or a country. Some of the critical challenges that we faced included not having required customer approvals to work from home (WFH) during a lockdown or a tested IT solution that would enable our associates to WFH efficiently while meeting IP and data security compliances. Because our business continuity plan was never battle-tested, we needed to adapt and adapt fast. Within a short time, our highly spirited multi-functional BCP team, while working round the clock, enabled associates to WFH and restart operation. One big lesson learned here was that BCP must be battle-ready through regular drills, akin to a fire drill.
The glamour and realities of WFH
As soon as our operations were up and running from the homes of our associates, other realities of life came unstuck. Our associates had never experienced working from home for weeks and days. The newfound joy of avoiding hours of commute to office in heavy traffic, the freedom to choose work timing, and a favorable work-life balance soon gave way to worries and concerns of having to work alone without the environment of friendly banter and intense debates and discussions at the office. From clarifying to being clarified, receiving training to being trained, reviewing to being reviewed, or even laughing to being laughed at, everything looked different and unreal in the WFH set-up. Serious doubts emerged in the minds of our associates if they can be productive while WFH. Some leaders even started doubting their ability to collaborate effectively and meet delivery commitments.
We approached this situation by looking at it through the triage of people, process, and technology, not in isolation.
People are our greatest assets
An initial assessment of the situation reveals that social distancing could become a norm at least in the immediate to medium term. So, as remote working becomes commonplace, it will require several changes in people's policies and a new approach to working.
- Creating a new workplace: As homes become the modern workplace, it is crucial to have a work-like environment to ensure productivity. The first step would be to create a dedicated workplace at home to avoid distractions, followed by drawing-up a work schedule to balance the added domestic responsibilities some associates may have due to the ongoing situation. Additionally, dressing up like one would on a typical workday, including wearing the company badge, gave a sense of normalcy and responsibility while working from home.Walk the talk: Operating from my “home office.”
- Training the workforce: Working from home requires specific skills such as knowledge of using collaboration tools and best practices for ensuring data security as well as soft skills such as providing and receiving feedback in a virtual work environment, and maintaining work-life balance. Since it is not a norm in the A&D industry, it is essential to invest in virtual training and workshops for employees, particularly junior associates, to ensure a smooth workflow.
- Ensuring associate wellbeing: The unknown nature of the coronavirus pandemic, its economic impact, and a global environment of uncertainty has led to an increase in the levels of anxiety and stress among the general population. In such a scenario, organizations need to provide accurate and timely information about the evolving situation, as well as providing a platform and resources for physical and mental wellbeing.
Processes are the backbone of project management and ensure the secure and timely delivery of projects. As A&D OEMs prepare for operating in the new reality, it is essential to focus on a few crucial aspects.
- Data security and IP protection: Data security and IP protection are top priorities in the A&D industry. In a physical environment, this is done by managing access and identity control, so in a remote working scenario, this becomes a major challenge. To ensure compliance and to prevent an unintentional or inadvertent re-export of sensitive data, organizations need to implement strict systems and remote audit processes that balance access and security.
- Enhanced project management: The most significant advantage of working together as a team in a single location is the ease of coordination among groups, which is a critical aspect of project delivery. To do that effectively in a distributed team structure, organizations must focus on enhancing their project management capabilities through best practices such as daily debriefing, frequent status updates, progress dashboard, and periodic situation reports as well as the use of virtual tools.
- Real-time communication and collaboration: Projects in the A&D industry rely on large teams with varied skill sets that often operate under one roof. The disruption in mobility and adoption of a distributed workforce requires new processes that enable more frequent, real-time communication and collaboration. In such a scenario, it is advisable to rely on chats, messaging, and video calls, which are more personal tools and offer a distinct advantage over traditional means such as emails, memos, and voice calls.
One aspect that sets the current scenario apart from such crises of the past is technology. And while the A&D sector itself operates at the bleeding edge of technology, we expect to see the emergence of new digital tools and its applications in the post-COVID-19 age.
- Providing IT infrastructure at home: The sudden need for a bulk of associates to work from home has forced organizations to provide adequate IT infrastructure and support to their associates. While it is not viable to physically move or provide high-end workstations to associates’ homes, organizations can find a workaround by providing basic computing hardware such as laptops and thin-clients connected to the enterprise network by enabling remote desktop functionality through secure VPNs. Further, associate productivity is boosted significantly when complemented with add-on devices such as large monitors, keyboards, and mice.
- Embracing digital technology: Remote working is a paradigm shift for several players in the A&D industry. Given the collaborative nature of projects, organizations must identify and deploy digital tools across functions that facilitate the process securely and efficiently, and at a scale that the situation demands. This should include integrated communication tools that enable voice/video calls and virtual brainstorming as well as project management tools that allow managers to track project progress and individual productivity.
As a trusted technology partner for leading A&D majors for over three decades, Cyient has developed a deep and nuanced understanding of the industry. In the spirit of collaboration and providing practical solutions to our customers in such trying times, we have undertaken the measures mentioned above that have enabled us to continue the delivery of our projects with little impact. With the wellbeing of our associates at the forefront, we have deployed critical people policies and digital technologies that enable us to partner with our customers as we look at the future with cautious optimism. This difficult phase of shall pass for sure, but the learnings would stick and better prepare us for disruptions in the future.
Stay home, stay healthy, and stay safe.