Gaurang Shetty is currently the Chief Innovation Catalyst / CEO at riidl (Research Innovation Incubation Design Laboratory), the Innovation centre and the Technology Business Incubator (TBI) of Somaiya Vidyavihar University. As the Chief Innovation Catalyst at riidl, he has facilitated a community of potential start-ups, who have raised over $5 million+ in total investments and have a total value over $20million+ : Squareoff, Aitoe, Kustard, Wohlig, mycuteoffice, offee, etc. Under his leadership riidl has also received grants from the Department of Science and Technology and BIRAC Department of Biotechnology – Government of India, and Maharashtra State Innovation Society, Government of Maharashtra.
The dominance of COVID-19 in virtually every aspect of life has been challenging. As the world bounces back, businesses reopen, and events and sporting activities resume, the economy is slowly getting back on its feet and adapting to the ‘new normal.
We are witnessing one of the biggest shifts in history, one in which a large number of people are working from home. Industry leaders have had to rethink the utilisation of resources like office space, equipment and machinery. They’ve also had to redesign workspaces, pantries, floors, buildings, etc.
How we defined ‘office’ earlier is no longer relevant; the infusion of automation and digitisation to connect and work together has changed everything. This includes a workplace compliant with COVID protocols. Human resources need to be upskilled and equipped, too, with relevant tools to resume work.
All this is being driven by the senior management as it impacts the core functioning of the organisation. Companies like Amazon have capitalised on their contactless/walkthrough stores. Amazon Go and many retail companies have started investing in fast and automated checkouts. Several companies in the delivery space have started showing the live temperature of their delivery person to ensure customer safety. Taxi aggregators like Ola have restricted the number of passengers to two in a hatchback or sedan.
In most industries, the recurring cost of automation and reskilling is far lower than it would be to get new resources. Investing in existing employees also results in the enhancement of trust and confidence within the company. Some like the Tata Group have received great appreciation for their relentless support to employees during the pandemic. Tata Steel even provided medical benefits and residential facilities along with salary security. They also introduced a scheme through which they pay the last-drawn salary to the families of employees who succumbed to COVID till they would have turned 60. These decisions require commitment from the top management as they reflect the company’s core values and culture. The brand perception of these companies becomes something others aspire to.
Implementing a safe working environment has been a priority for many industries as they wanted to quickly resume work, especially industries under the ‘essential services’ category. Reducing interaction with third-party staff, external parties and customers, and shifting teams to digital platforms to minimise the risk of exposure to employees is tough but essential. Only those employees whose physical presence was required are called. Spreading out working hours, thus minimising the number of on-site employees, is preferred. Implementing social distancing protocols and installing sanitisation machines are a must, as is asking employees to wear a mask. Sometimes, minimal fines have been imposed when rules are broken.
Mental health, too, has become a critical issue with people stuck at home for long periods. Many organisations understood this and decided to adopt WHO guidelines. Managing mental health and psycho-social well-being is as important as managing physical health. So, some organisations implemented strategies such as ensuring sufficient rest and respite during work or between shifts, eating sufficient and healthy food, engaging in physical activities, and staying connected to family and friends. Coping with stress is like running a marathon and constant efforts have to be made by both, organisation and employees.
Investing in the prevention of future crises has also been a priority as the pandemic caught all businesses off-guard. A company can plan to handle potential health crises by investing in digital and cloud platforms and cyber security, insuring employees, and work hours-related protocols. There are multiple options but this effort should be made by the senior leadership.
As businesses change, those with a more open culture, managed with transparency and flexibility, will adapt quicker and suffer less. For more traditional companies, the transformation will be rougher. For everyone, there is the opportunity for a more effective and sustainable way of doing business.
In times of crisis, it’s easy for organisations to find refuge in old habits — but those are usually the times in which new approaches are most valuable. As companies evolve for this age, they cannot afford to be constrained by traditional information sources, business models and capital allocation behaviour. Instead, they must highlight anomalies and challenging mental models, revamp business structures and invest capital dynamically to not only survive but also thrive in a post-crisis world.