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The questions COVID-19 may be posing to corporates

Do you wake up to the necessity of a business continuity plan only when a crisis looms on the horizon? Or, do you have one in place much before a contingency arises?

In 2015, when Chennai “went under” due to an unusual flood situation, many software companies, especially those functioning on its IT Corridor, were scrambling around to make arrangements to ensure that business operations continued without any break.

In most of the cases, the affected company shifted operations to any of other metros where it had an office. The crisis would have driven home to some companies, the importance of having a business continuity plan in place. The December Deluge, as it is remembered in Chennai, was not unusual in delivering this message. Following every crisis that disrupts regular business functions, there is bound to be some introspection, which however proves fruitful only if it translates into efforts to have a business continuity plan. It may be difficult to predict when a crisis will strike, but chalking up a broad spectrum of crises that can be expected and having back-up work plans should not be a challenge.

K.S. Raja Rajasekar, deputy general manager - HR, Kone Elevator, says that companies should have a basic business contingency plan; and during a crisis situation they should only be fine-tuning it, factoring in the unique aspects of the ongoing crisis.

That takes us to the question: What are the salient features of an effective business continuity plan?

Process simplification

Creating a template of regular processes with crisis situations in mind is an essential aspect of such an exercise.

This template simplifies the regular processes so that anybody down the totem pole can perform them, says Raja Rajasekar.

Process simplification, Raja points out, will enable employees of allied departments to perform the functions of a department that may be hard hit by a crisis.

Parallel workforce

In certain places, geographical and geo-political risks may be apparent, but there would be no telling when it would become a problem to be dealt with.

“Companies may venture into certain places despite apparent geographical and geo-political risks, as the benefits may outnumber the risks.

“However, the risks can’t be ignored, and these proactive companies will have a ‘parallel site’ elsewhere with a workforce trained to take up any ‘emergency’ work that may arise from ‘site A’. When there is no emergency work to attend to, this ‘parallel workforce’ will be going about its regular work in its own geographical space,” says Kamal Karanth, co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing organisation.

Risk to people

From the viewpoint of day-to-day operations as well as larger organisational management, risk involving people can’t be swept under the carpet — usually, people readiness constitutes the major part of any response to a crisis. “Some companies ensure that the CEO and COO don’t travel by the same flight — that is a measure that factors in the extreme unpredictability-of-life quotient. There are organisations that will groom successors, who can step in quickly when there is a leadership-related crisis pertaining to either day-to-day operations or the larger management of the organisation.

“For the sake of keeping costs down, senior leaders may sometimes also perform functional roles, but this can come back to haunt an organisation when the unforeseen strikes.

“Companies also have to look at the span of control of a leader, restricting it to a manageable number of reportees, if necessary, so that there is no breakdown, when this person is faced with an emergency situation,” says Karanth.

Creative de-risking

There is no limit to how a crisis can be tided over, because each comes with its own challenges, and an effective response to one may not always just involve reorganising work patterns, but also effecting tweaks in the mundane aspects of organisational functioning. It may sometimes call for out-of-the-box restructuring of regular work. As part of its contribution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, WaterScience has introduced a work-from-home policy for all functions except for production. However, the production process is characterised by an interesting modification.

“We are in the business of manufacturing products and obviously, that is one function that can’t be performed from home: and so we have instituted a ‘contact-less manufacturing’ process that has been split into four steps — Releasing raw material, sub-assembly, full assembly and packaging,” says Pavithra Rao, co-founder and vice-president — Growth and Revenue at WaterScience. Only one of the four processes will happen at any given time and only four people will be in the 16,000 sq.ft facility at any point of time. “The facility is sanitised after every group of employees leaves and before the next group steps in. With this process, we ensure minimal contact and exposure, while ensuring our shower and tap filters get manufactured,” says Pavithra.

“In Bengaluru, as a response to the COVID-19 situation, a business major with 14 offices in the city has undertaken many measures beyond providing 50 percent of its workforce with the work-from-home option. In each of its offices in Bengaluru, it has shut down the cafeterias, but keeps the kitchens working.

‘‘Employees can’t congregate at the cafeterias and have food there, but the company has designed a system for people to order food from the kitchens and have it delivered at their desks. At each of its offices, the company has reduced entry to just one entrance, to pre-empt the possibility of laxity in monitoring at some entrances,” explains Karanth.

Be open to new ideas

Buildmet fibres, a Bengaluru-based packaging industry that employs nearly 1000 employees, has sought suggestions from its workforce to tide over the situation arising from the COVID-19 situation.

“The work-from-home option is not possible for us and we work round-the-clock including on Sundays. Besides following all the necessary precautions during the week, we set aside Sundays, when a large part of our workforce doesn’t work, for carrying out an extensive sanitisation exercise around our facility. We are interacting with companies from other industries to see if any other best practices can be followed. Meanwhile, we have asked our employees to come with new ideas,” says S. Ramakrishnan, managing director, Buildmet fibres.

Staggered work hours, teams that alternate between work-from-home and work-from-office systems are among various ways in which companies are functioning in these COVID-19 times.

An investment banking company has split its teams into ‘blue’ and ‘white’ teams where they will be working alternately from home and office.

Long-term planning

As we mentioned earlier, exigency planning should be hardwired into the DNA of an organisation. There should be many business continuity plans addressing a variety of situations placed in cold storage, and when a crisis strikes, the energy should be focussed only on enhancing the best-suited and relevant plan to meet the unique challenges posed by this particular crisis.

Karanth points out that any effective business continuity planning will involve all the stakeholders in a business ecosystem: “To give an example, supply chain de-risking is a key component of de-risking, but does not usually get the importance it deserves.

‘‘A company may find alternative ways of working to tide over a crisis, but it can still be in the danger zone if it does not factor in the risks faced by its suppliers.

‘‘And if it overly depends on one supplier, the risk increased manifold. So, proactive companies will work with multiple suppliers, and this applies to talent suppliers”

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 4:45:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/careers/the-questions-covid-19-may-be-posing-to-corporates/article31092472.ece

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