India began hearing serious news about Corona Virus and impact since February 2020.
And in March it became clear that its impact is growing beyond China, spreading across USA, Europe and then to India also.
So people started talking about precautions, safety measures, including Washing hands, Masks etc.
We too installed hand sanitisers in Pune and Mumbai offices. And posters about Corona and precautions etc.
I realised that sooner or later, there will be preference to work from home and if the situation does not improve, compulsion to work from home.
I started discussing this internally from Saturday March 14th.
I relalised that we have to plan WFH on priority, without waiting for Government to tell us.
On Sunday March 15th, I did something that I would normally never would – called Conf Call Meeting of our Managers to discuss WFH.
As a policy I don’t disturb our SAPL members on Sunday. That is their family and other activity day. And they don’t disturb me 😊. Unless under emergency.
And this was urgent.
During that call, I explained to them about the problem and how WFH will become essential soon. And how to prepare. And then clarity on the action plan. The plan involved enabling 100% people to work from home.
Managers contributed their opinions and assured to plan to share next day.
I would like to add a few words about our Management Team here.
Our company is run by a team of managers, headed by General Manager Technical.
Each Manager heads a team / function responsible for various tasks. They manage the day to day operations very well, including Customer Interactions.
And I rely on their opinion about fine tuning policy as well execution on ground.
Monday 16th March, we had conf call with Management Team about preparations, plan and execution.
The plan involved –
- Mobile & Internet
- Contact Details
- Work allotment & discipline
- Software Development enablement
- Information to all People
- Even though our technical service team prefers Laptops since they have to travel, other had missed preference to Desktop. Especially the Operations and Development team, due to large screen and convenient keyboard.
- But we have been insisting on Laptops for various reasons, though they are costlier and spares too are costly.
- Eventually 95 % of our team started using Laptops.
- So we had a task of giving laptops to remaining team members, which were procured on priority, configured and handed over.
- There was another task of upgrading some of the Laptops for reliable and safe working from home.
- When you are in office, even when there is some problem on laptop, some help is at hand. For repair. And a spare can be managed. (we try to maintain spare laptop in each office for emergency).
- But when you are working from home such help is not available. So upgrades, battery, keyboard all had to be checked.
Mobile & Internet:
- Most of our employees who need to make and receive calls, are given SIM cards by company, under corporate plan.
- Now since all are working from Home, each one needed to use mobile or landline at home.
- And we had to ensure that the mobile phones have network availability in home.
- Normally this would not matter because for most of the working time, they are in office, using mobile or office PRI line.
- But now we had to check this, and make alternate provisions in case of network issues.
- Similarly, SIM cards come with large Internet Plan. But we had to check whether at home, each person has a reliable internet network. If not, ask to make alternate provisions.
- We also asked employees, who did not have office SIM network, to use their personal mobile/ Internet with plan to compensate.
- HR dept was asked to update the personal location and contact details with alternate number in case of emergency.
- We found that some employees had not updated their home addresses. And emergency numbers were no updated.
- And some people preferred to go back to their native place, had to provide those details.
Work allotment & discipline:
- When you are sitting as a team in office with your manager allotting work, talking to you and doing daily review in person, there is different environment. And convenience.
- With remote working, we had to ensure that our Issue Tracking Software can cope with this, allocate the work and log activities.
- We have developed a software for allotting work / issues with all the details and track work done. In-house. The development done over years, came in handy now.
- So even when everyone is remote, the work is allocated and work done is logged.
- Attendance is one more issue. But eventhough we have a biometric attendance machine in office, we also have a portal for marking attendance as also a mobile App.
- This was useful earlier for all – in office or at customer site or sometimes WFH etc. Now it becomes important.
- We asked our managers to have work review call everyday morning. To review work done yesterday, work allocation today and check issues if any. It also enabled the manager to assess if they have enough load and then share the status with me later for planning.
Software Development enablement:
- This team uses a Server in office, for purpose, that everyone in software development would know.
- For logging in from remote, we had to configure our Firewall, Install a secure client in each developers laptop, configure, test for secure connection. And then ensure that office server and infra will remain working when it is locked.
- We had already invested in Fiber based Leased Line with Firewall at each office, which was useful now.
- The central server also controls the users rights and hence it was important to keep it up and maintain.
Information to all:
- We had to inform all our Customers and our Associates / suppliers about WFH.
- We also put up a notice on our website so that visitors would know. And launched a Chatbot, to improve response and feeling of interaction to visitors, when we are not able to respond online.
- We knew that WFH will affect the working efficiency, though we will try to minimise the impact.
- One, when you are working remotely, you depend on your phone for many small conversions, that you very easily can have in office. In teams, in parallel.
- When you are using mobile, it is serial task planning, and hence overall productivity goes down. Managers have to now depend on mobile to talk to team members, customers, associates or even me. That means, his team members, when they need his help critically, are going to find him busy always.
- I anticipated that this will have effect on deliverables, try to reduce impact to best and has to be informed to all.
- Even for me, what I could easily achieve in office, with simultaneous working, now takes time.
- The advantage of working from home is, that we all have extra time on hand. We have saved our travelling time (and efforts) which is the best saving. And flexibility. That can offset this.
- This is the most important part of the entire WFH project. They are now working alone, have to be self motivated and self monitored.
- We have found out in many circumstances that our people are committed to work. And carry out their tasks on their own.
- There are bound to some exceptions, anywhere. But as compared to many other organisations, I am happy to note that I can rely on my team to perform even when no one is watching.
- The customer service team agreed to work at odd hours because our customers also had to plan many tasks. And even completed urgent tasks at short notice.
- Our Kolkata team had started WFH already and they had shown greater commitment to work and delivery after WFH. This became the mark for all.
- We also launched a new project, with all members remotely working, in response to our customer’s call.
- The WFH could not have been a success without all of them.
While the planning was going on, we decided that we can let members move to home for working as soon as they are ready. But in phases.
- Those who needed to go back to native place, will go in first phase. Men or Women. They had problems of finding food and other services in city.
- Then came remaining Ladies.
- Then the balance staff and managers.
- And I continued to be in office even after everyone was working at home. For some pending meetings with associates. And to check if the office infra is working properly for remote access to teams. Till 21st March.
And after 22nd March, (Janata Curfew), we all started working from home.
Now with about 4 weeks into WFH, we find that most of our initial working helped us.
But there were some learnings also. And I wish to list them here so that they became points to consider in future
First the mistakes-
- Electricity: We planned for all other infra and systems. But we did not consider that people may face problem in Electricity supply. We have UPS in office, but we don’t expect people to have that kind of backup at home. This can pose a challenge.
- Homework + WFH: This was not normal WFH, where all other systems are working normal. This time you had no help at home. Which means, you had to wash, cook, purchase, and also work. This was a more serious issue for ladies. Even I had to go thru extra time allocation for these tasks. And then your lunch cooking clashing with your conference call 😊
And other –
- Like a saying goes, you sharpen your sword in peace time so that you are ready for the war. Many preparations that you do otherwise, not knowing what you will face in future, are useful in this time. I have listed some above. Whether it is Cloud readiness, Tracking Software, reporting discipline all.
- The work load from Customer can become uncertain in these times. Management has to think creatively to engage our employees and prepare. The WFH will end someday. So preparations for that are also part of work.
- People are essential components. And having / developing reliable team is of essence.
I have always believed that people want to work, to perform, achieve, and feel satisfied. This was tested again and proved right.
I am sure India will emerge victorious in this war against Corona and we all will get very busy again.
And even while hoping there is no new Virus, these learnings could be useful in multiple ways for us.
Till then, Adios !
- This writeup is about our planning and execution of Work From Home for our teams.
- Other companies would have done similar work, small as well large.
- We don’t claim to have done something great, but just to show the kind of preparation and planning that went into it. And how our managers and teams have positively responded.
- Others may read and comment if we have missed anything. And those who find this useful, can learn a few things.
- I have omitted all technical details. Those interested, can contact independently.