The world is facing an unprecedented challenge in the form of COVID 19 virus outbreak. It has sent the world’s economies into a downward spiral and recession looms large. Businesses have been shut down. Ensuring survival and business continuity is a challenge, particularly for companies which are human intensive. The manufacturing sector is one of the hardest hit by the unprecedented crisis.
In a candid conversation, Hilal Khan, VP and Operating Head – IT, Honda Cars India and one of India’s prominent technology leaders spoke to me about the challenges he faced as well as his major learnings from the current crisis. To my question if work has suffered due to the lockdown conditions, he was unambiguous about it.
“It is not possible that the work will not suffer. For a company like mine, which is a manufacturing company, the fundamental work that we do is to produce and sell cars. If you are not manufacturing and selling, there are activities that you can do you sitting at home but there is a time limit to it,” says Khan.
Work From Home Can Only Supplement
Technology-aided Work from Home has been useful to some companies trying to find ways and means to ensure business continuity, maintaining timelines and productivity. With everything locked down, Khan elaborated on how the WFH model, at best, can be a supplement, and not the sole method of doing business. He said that the fundamental and mandatory condition for work from home to be successful is that work should continue to happen from office.
“At least 60 to 70% of the work should continue to happen from office,” pointed out the technology leader.
It is true that manufacturing is the hardest hit. But is the situation different for different industries? Can a sector like IT, which is heavily technology-oriented, make do with the WFH model completely? I posed several of such popular queries as there is a lot of buzz around work from home.
Khan agreed that the model may be more effective in tech-oriented sectors such as IT but he also pointed out that even for the IT industry, there are people at the office assigning and offloading work for those at home. Khan also spoke about the many learnings for him and the organization and which will stand them in good stead in the future.
Learnings From the Covid-19 Crisis
“My biggest learning from this situation is that work from home is possible to an extent,” reiterated the tech leader.
The tech leader also dwelt on the various measures the company has taken in order to ensure a smooth transition to work from home. He informed that development work had been outsourced to partners and robust tech support is being provided to thousands of internal users to facilitate communications.
“We are supporting video conferencing remotely as well as applications across various functions in the domains of manufacturing, purchasing, financing, and accounts service. We have ensured that those applications are always up and running,” said the tech leader.
Talking about the initial experience of having almost all the workforce work from home, the technology leader admitted that there were queries, apprehensions and concerns, initially. But he also believed the experience has been rewarding for the employees and they have actually started using technology that they were not hands-on before.
“We have learnt that hands on training is the best. Earlier, we provided numerous trainings to our employees but all those became effective in this situation when they actually started working from home. Many people left their hesitations behind. The process was smooth, easy and productive. In the beginning, excitement was high,” recounted Khan.