HANDLING THE NEW NORMAL
Gulf Business|Gulf Business May 2020
As the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, remote working has become the new standard for institutions across the world. But regionally, is the infrastructure equipped to deal with the sudden pressure exerted on systems? Is our digital health protected amidst a rising barrage of cyberattacks? Most importantly, how are individuals coping mentally with the altered ways of working and living while still under the shadow of the coronavirus? Gulf Business explores our new reality
ZAINAB MANSOOR

The art of ‘remote’ balancing

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS FORCED ORGANISATIONS TO RETHINK THEIR DIGITAL AND BUSINESS STRATEGIES AND RE-INVENT THE WAY THEY OPERATE

The year 2020 started on an ambivalent note. The newest strain of the coronavirus infection that began in the capital of China’s Hubei province, Wuhan, has since morphed into a catalyst of change.

Health implications aside – which are colossal, with the Covid-19 pandemic having claimed over 211,000 lives (at the time of going to press) – the contagion has played havoc with the traditional methods of doing business, education, and social and professional interaction.

From a professional standpoint, it has unwittingly ushered in the digital era much earlier than many may have anticipated, prompting organisations to rethink their digital and business strategies, realign their policies and re-invent the way they operate.

The concept of remote work and the technologies underpinning it have stood out as a winning strategy. But it has, in no uncertain terms, brought with it a set of uncharted territories and challenges that need to be panned out on a timely basis to sustain what could be several weeks of social (and professional) distancing.

Foremost among them are investments required to spur digital infrastructures and processes to offer sustainable solutions. Digital overhauling is not restricted to investment in software only; in fact, it entails a broader digital transformation protocol including communication plans with all stakeholders and training with internal ones.

“The pandemic has changed people’s perception about remote working and increasingly workforce and employers are adapting to ‘working from home’. For this to be sustainable, there will be a need for increased investments and innovation in remote working infrastructure, such as digital solutions for enhanced collaboration and training programmes,” Ranjan Sinha, managing director, Protiviti Member Firm, Middle East, explains.

“There is no doubt that Covid-19 has accelerated the need for companies to re-evaluate their digital infrastructure. This pandemic has managed to serve as a catalyst for companies to ensure business continuity and resilience, equipping employees with the tools and systems to work flexibly,” adds Jihad Tayara, CEO, EVOTEQ.

Thought leaders and executives, while helping their companies weather the tide of the Covid-19 pandemic, should also be reflecting on the need to be prognostic to ensure business continuity and greater immunity in years to come.

“There will be increased focus on developing business continuity management (BCM) plans for entire supply chains. Companies will build BCM plans together with their suppliers and customers. Isolated plans will not be sufficient in dealing with business continuity events in the future,” Sinha opines.

“There are many factors companies cannot control during pandemics, for instance, government quarantines, interruption of logistics, public health infrastructure – it is important that an organisation’s crisis management programme has a system in place to interpret information to prevent confusion.”

Upskilling now more than ever

As the Covid-19 virus continues to spread, it has brought to the fore the increasing need for employees to gain proficiencies in various skillsets – be it digital, social or professional – outside the nucleus of their inherent work requirements. In times of an industrial slowdown, employees are being reassigned across industries and within business divisions. This should prompt companies to embed job rotations and systematic employee upskilling in their business continuity plans.

According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2018, no less than 54 per cent of all employees will require reskilling and upskilling by 2022.

Additionally, as governments and businesses circulate increased amounts of information via digital tools – a haven for cyberattacks – it is imperative for employees to acquire and update their skillset to better manage the deluge of digital data.

“Companies and employees should be investing in training and awareness around cloud solutions and data security. There is a strong need for employees to understand how their company’s digital infrastructure works and familiarise themselves on how to responsibly and effectively use it in their day-to-day jobs,” Tayara says.

Sinha concurs: “Employees will need to constantly upskill in ‘short bursts’ to remain relevant to their roles and future evolution of these roles. The pandemic has forced slowness in business activities and presented opportunities for employees to upskill through digital learning platforms.”

Remote working vs learning

In the aftermath of the virus spread, while offices convened to makeshift desks, so did physical classrooms and libraries.

On March 22, the first day of e-learning, over 1.2 million school and university students in the UAE entered their virtual classrooms, a report by Cavendish Maxwell found.

However, the pressure of digital adaptation for working parents was two-fold – as a parent and a professional – making their transition to remote operations a bit more challenging.

“Due to the current circumstances, parents are managing three jobs simultaneously – their own professional career, household management with the current logistical constraints, and their kids’ distance learning schedules. It is important to acknowledge that they are not trained educators, and they should not put pressure on themselves to be so,” Maya El Hachem, managing director, and partner, Boston Consulting Group, opines.

“Parents must encourage their children to own as much of their learning journey as appropriate. They should also try to provide a dedicated learning setup. This provides children with an increased sense of independence and motivation. Parents must also engage with school leaders, teachers, and other parents to work as a team – share expectations and plans, share tips, and support each other.”

Healthy support systems

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