“Soon after joining in a new role, I’ve been locked in a hotel. I am in a 19-floor, swanky hotel, which gives a haunted look with just 20 odd guests locked on just one floor. No facility including swimming pool, recreation, restaurants, gymnasium, or even the lobby is functional. However, food is served in the room immaculately. But that’s pretty much it. The only shot in the arm is a tea/coffee station, which can be used at will. Also, climbing of stairs – as many as you can – is allowed as a substitute to the regular gym to keep oneself physically in order. I am in touch with family, but too far away. Emotions do overpower the strength at times.”
Sounds like a movie script or a haunted story. Isn’t it?
For a moment, it starts reading like a movie script.
SUDDEN UNFOLDING OF EVENTS
But it’s been a real ordeal for Kapil Pal, who recently moved from LafargeHolcim (one of the world’s largest cement companies) in Mumbai to join as the head of technology at United Breweries (with over 40% share of the Indian brewing market with 79 distilleries and bottling units across the world) in Bengaluru.
Who’d know that the sudden developments – both at global and local levels – will lead leave him high and dry? On the day of joining, there were only murmurs of some steps to be taken to contain the spread of deadly Coronavirus. Little did Kapil know that he’d even be inducted in the company ‘virtually’ and then trapped in a hotel.
On the day of his joining, 20th March, Kapil was lucky to have his mail ID configured and a laptop being handed over. Soon after that was the weekend during which Prime Minister Modi requested Indians to observe a day-long “Janata Curfew.” The next day (23rd March) United Breweries decided to allow most of its white-collar executives to ‘work from home’. And on 24th March, the nation-wide lockdown was imposed with almost no prior notice.
“I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. In a normal situation, I was to get myself acquainted with the new place, its processes, business priorities and challenges, go for a house hunt and settle in a new place. Being away from family, in a transit stay, it’s both difficult and challenging,” says Kapil. He had no choice but to e-meet even his CFO, CHRO, Strategy Head and also the Managing Director through a video conference.
Like any typical manufacturing company, UB also doesn’t have a formal ‘work from home’ culture. “It’s a regulated business. Besides production, there are a lot of contexts involved including government regulation, excise duties and a very different type of supply chain issues. So, unlike knowledge and IT companies, ‘work from home’ isn’t a norm here,” he explains.
BUCKLING UP FOR THE SHOW
But there was very little time at hand for Kapil to start putting things in order. He had to not only enable the UB’s large workforce to ‘work from home’ but also ensure that the systems match the workload and perform at their optimum.
“As no one anticipated this crisis, many things were found missing. There weren’t enough VPN licenses to start with. We procured them as per need in a jiffy. Fortunately, we had the license for Microsoft Teams, for which we quickly rolled out the newer version. We quickly conducted a training for over 160 people to acquaint them,” explains Kapil.
Since the Managing Director of UB needed to communicate to the entire employee base, Kapil, with the help of his technology team, quickly enabled him to do a podcast. “While all this was going on, the dramatic and dynamic changes have done one good thing: The management is now keen to know how we can fast-track the digital transformation (DT) and enable more people to work from home in normal times as well.”
CERTAINTY WITHIN UNCERTAINTY
The lockdown is not yet over. While some of the factories have been allowed to start operations, the situation will limp back to normalcy only over a period of time. Till then, apart from usual work, Kapil has been trying to keep his IT team motivated and also physically fit through a well-planned virtual regime. “The daily fitness session “IT’s Fitness for Positive Minds” on Microsoft Teams is a huge hit. “Three members from the team take lead to do an hour-long session on a rotational basis every week. Last week we had rigorous sessions on Yoga including ‘Surya Namaskar’. This has been noticed by the HR and the videos are shared pan-India now,” he says. (See Kapil’s stair-climbing regime in the picture below).
While Kapil waits to move out of the hotel soon, he is sure of a lot of realignment of IT goals post the Covid-19 scenario.
Till then, it is work as usual for him from the hotel.