In December 2019 we first heard about this mysterious virus that was causing some concern to the world. Till February 2020 we in Bangladesh did not pay much heed to the problem thinking that it would somehow go away or we would miraculously evade the scourge. It was not until March that we understood the difference between the words epidemic and pandemic and generally started to refer to the morbid disease by the name of Covid-19. In just a few months more than 3 million people in the world have been infected and more than 200,000 people have lost their lives to this dreaded disease. The world as we know it has come to a complete standstill. More than 4 billion people around the world are in lockdown.
Striking a tradeoff between saving lives and livelihoods is the most difficult dilemma that leaders around the world are facing today. The lockdown will be over one day and time will come when we will rejoin our work and some semblance of normality will return to our lives but the world has woken up to a new insidious enemy which is an integral part of our ecosystem and it can strike us at any time without warning. The Coronavirus has many strains including the seasonal flu, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Avian flu and now the Covid-19. It can mutate and take up some other characteristic and therefore the vaccine does not offer a blanket immunity. Post Covid-19 the world will never be the same again. And this change will be most notable in our workplace. WFH (work from home) is an acronym which will soon become a part of everyone’s vocabulary.
It seems that we are slowly moving towards a gradual removal of the lockdown. Some of the garment industries have started operations and I am assuming that from now onwards the government will open up the economy in phases so that after Eid all establishments would be operational except perhaps the busses in the metropolitan cities which may continue in lockdown for a longer period of time.
Businesses will face a very big challenge in restarting the activities. It is important for the Administration and Human Resource departments in our corporate world to understand that a single case of Covid-19 infection detected in the corporate office can send the entire workforce of the office into quarantine or risk an organizational pandemic which could have a crippling long term effect on the company. We will have to get our businesses back on track with such severe constraints in place. It is going to be a long hard struggle.
Companies will have to redefine the work place. The seating arrangement in offices have to be in accordance with social distancing norms, ever more reliance on virtual meetings, sanitization, obsession with the cleaning protocol and reverting back to access cards instead of the biometric recognition system are some of the mandatory measures that need to be taken. All this will mean a much higher cost to the company which most companies can ill afford during these desperate times but I really do not think that it is optional. I think that this crisis provides us an important opportunity to deepen trust and commitment with employees in ways that will not only ensure the safety and well being of the employees but also build up the relationship equity which will position the company for greater success when the crisis is over. https://arshihaider.com/2020/04/09/relationship-equity/. During times of such crises it is important to keep sight of the human side of the company.
I was gradually transitioning into retirement and took up this blog as a pastime. I have not been involved with the operational functions of bti for several years but do take an active part in the strategic decision making of the company. This unexpected attack by the corona virus has forced me out of my limbo to get personally involved with details in redefining how we will be working. Here are the measures we have decided to take to protect our employees and safeguard our work premises. I have gone into details in case some other companies also find it useful.
Upon resumption of life after Covid-19 we will see people have changed. Employees will be concerned about their workplace safety. At least in the initial stages the customers and other external stakeholders will be reluctant to have physical meetings. Our sales teams will have to unlearn how they did things in the past and learn how to sell through virtual meetings and virtual tours. After struggling for 10 years Zoom is suddenly one of the hottest companies in the world signifying the dawn of the “virtual” age.
bti’s work space will be looking drastically different from the pre Covid era. We have always been a thrifty organization and therefore the workstations though comfortable were tightly packed where optimizing the use of space was essential. Now the 6ft social distancing has to be incorporated in our workspace. In order to facilitate social distancing and reducing the density of people in our offices, almost half of the employees will be working remotely from home. There will be restrictions on gathering in common areas and all meetings must be done on Zoom even though the concerned members may be present in the same office building. The use of mask is mandatory when attending any absolutely necessary meeting. Air conditioning will be switched off with windows opened to minimize the risk of pathogens floating in closed air conditioned spaces. We are trying to figure out how to send the message for washing hands in a a fun way so that it can be announced frequently without making it boring and ineffective. The messaging must be done in a way that also resonates with the support staff who may otherwise be less conscious about the importance of frequent hand washing and the seemingly unnecessary waste of soap.
The role of the support staff has also been redefined. They are no longer going to be serving tea/coffee/refreshments. There will now be a self service counter for employees. A team of support staff will be engaged in constantly sanitizing the entire office space.
All vendors and contractors and external stakeholders will be requested not to visit our offices till the situation normalizes. All transactions will be made by Electronic Fund Transfer. We are also requesting our customers to kindly not visit our offices for the sake of their and our safety. All interactions with customers are to be done virtually.
This crisis has also prompted us to accelerate our long planned transition to becoming a paperless organization. Now with the threat of contamination through paper we are consciously working towards that goal.
Our support staff live in dormitories and sometimes in unhygienic conditions where they may have a higher risk of infection. We have decided to accommodate them all in our under construction sites near the head office with strict rules to ensure controlled movement. We are making arrangements at the sites for their food to be cooked in a safe and hygienic way. When they come to the office they will be required to change into a fresh set of clothes to avoid any chance of contamination.
Some of our junior employees are also living in messes and dormitories where several people from different walks of life share a room. To safeguard the health of our junior employees we are looking to rent apartments in the neighbourhood of our head office so that our employees can be accommodated together and remain safe with movement control restrictions.
We have imposed social distancing on our staff busses where people must sit maintaining 6ft distance from each other. The first person who gets on the bus will be responsible to ensure that the bus is properly sanitized before proceeding on the journey and thereafter every employee that boards the bus along the way will sanitize the seat that s(he) sits on. The staff busses will once again be sanitized by our admin department staff before commencing the return journey at the end of the day.
We are investing in technology so that we can show a high quality virtual tour of our projects to our prospective customers thereby minimizing the need for our sales team members to arrange physical visits of our customers to the construction sites. All our sales and business development team members who need to visit customers will use the office pool cars which will be sanitized before and after every journey.
The temperature of anyone coming to the office will be checked. With the exception of those who may have some health issues all our employees are being urged to use the stairs instead of the elevators. Maximum 3 people will be allowed into the elevator at a time and wearing a mask is mandatory.
We have now been in lockdown for about a month. There is no business activity but the expenditure keeps adding up. For our industry I do not see a quick V shape bounce back. If we are lucky it will be a U shape recovery and if a deep recession sets in then we are looking at a long drawn L shape curve before we see better days. Since Bangladesh has relatively sound macro economic fundamentals I am optimistic about a quicker turnaround of our economy. Nevertheless we are bracing ourselves for the biggest fight for our survival since the inception of the company. My greatest hope comes from the people in bti. Together we have overcome many adversities and in sha Allah we will also overcome this one. And when this dark chapter in human history is over and we witness the dawn of a new era of prosperity, the indomitable human spirit will once again rise like a phoenix from the ashes as a testament to the glory of the Almighty Creator.