Are we ready to “Operate from Home”?
With the wake of Coronavirus, there has been a huge disruption in daily operations. From schools to workplaces, malls to weekend getaways, things have been impacted. This article is an attempt to address the operational challenges for business owners, board of directors, employers, IT Departments, auditors, employees, parents and millennials. The article also gives a few technology tips and tools, to handle this challenge, towards the end.
With the World Health Organisation declaring “Corona Virus Disease” as a pandemic, many countries and federal states across the globe are striving hard to contain the spread and minimize the damage. In fact, the Indian government has declared COVID-19 as a “National Disaster”. Many State governments have declared holidays for schools and colleges with a few also stating that this is a national emergency. These orders have restrained social gatherings and restricting access to shopping malls, theatres and other places where the public at the large visit. On the other end, many corporates and large institutions are requesting employees not to come to the office and “Work from Home”, to largely quarantine and contain this disease. All of this has raised concerns amongst leaders of organizations on their continuity of business. While most organizations are prepared to address their traditional business continuity challenges, little did they plan for the “COVID-19” equivalent. This article is an attempt to address a few of these challenges.
As Business Owners:
The first thing, as a business owner, is to assess the risk of continuity and the impact on the supply chain. Product driven companies, entities importing and sourcing raw materials across borders, may have to rethink on alternatives and see how best domestic substitutes and its equivalents can be obtained. The customer turn-out could be lesser for the next few days and there is a need to rejig the delivery models. Alternative delivery channels including electronic delivery and e-commerce should be considered to reach out to your customer. You may also consider introducing newer policies that always took a backseat owing to peak customer rush. Service-oriented companies can largely opt for work-from-home (“WFH”), subject to available technology infrastructure. Organisations need to identify key tasks and activities to enable this. Consider enabling VPN connectivity with a secure login for employees and key resources. On the other side, showcase and communicate to your customers on how you are approaching these challenges and give them the confidence that you are with them in these tough times and striving your best to address these constraints. Companies should evaluate and exercise the “Force Majeure” clause for protecting themselves from any claims and escalations. On the other end, avoid hiking the price of your products as this could create a ripple effect. Reduce the movement of people and encourage e-meetings, webinars, etc. Use technology to solve the daily challenges and introduce newer business models as many are restricted to their homes.
As Board of Directors
You occupy the highest role in the organization and are accountable to multiple stakeholders. It is time you made yourself aware of the position and the impact on your organization. Communicate proactively to investors, shareholders, bankers, and employees. Impact of your company’s performance to be factored into the guidance and earnings release. Consider approaching regulators such as SEBI, IRDA, SEC, etc., in case, any relief required. Inform investors not to panic as this is merely a temporary phenomenon.
Issue travel advisory to employees and communicate to them that you care for them, their families and would support them during these troubled times. Educate and train employees on proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and social distancing techniques. Implement flexible work hours, relaxation in deliverables and consider introducing temporary changes to your workforce policies. Options to work from home, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, flexible and restrictive hours are a few that could be introduced. Sanitize and increase hygiene at the office workplace. Re-look into your group insurance policies and check if COVID-19 is covered. If not, consider taking a top-up.
As Information Technology (IT) Departments
In these challenging times, it is the IT Departments who must provide the required infrastructure and support. You occupy an extremely crucial role in enabling the delivery of services and products and providing the required connectivity within the organization and to reach its customers. Do not overlook on Security in these tough times. Phishing and Malware attacks in the names of “official sites for updates on Coronavirus” are largely coming into existence. In cases of work from home, ensure minimum security standards are in place in all the systems which have been enabled to work from home. Forget not the “Security” and “Privacy” requirements of your clients. Enable VDI, virtual machines, and remote logins. Consider relaxing a few of the Information Security Policy requirements without compromising on your organization’s security. Procure or rent additional laptops and dongles to enable the workforce to be connected.
With the financial year around the corner, there is a need for auditors to test various financial assertions. Impact of COVID-19 on the supply chain, not meeting contracted timelines needs to be assessed. Entities having import and export with affected countries could have longer realization/payment cycles. Impairment of key assets, receivables, inventory must be tested. Perhaps the “going concern assumption” must be re-looked. Increase in provisions and potential losses, the impact of business units/subsidiaries in affected areas and countries must be assessed. Impact of Ind-AS / IFRS also to be factored.
This is a crucial time to support your organization. Put your best foot forward and assist them in these times of need. If you are even slightly sick, you should consider keeping yourself away and having a medical check-up done to protect yourself and your co-workers. Keep yourselves clean and wash hands regularly. While you will have to balance family and work considering kids are full time at home, you may have to be flexible and open for the work timings and deliverables. If you are working from home, you might have saved your office commute time. Consider productively using this by up-skilling, e-learning, reading a book or spending quality time with family. If you feel lonely working from home, take regular breaks and try doing something outside work which you always have been passionate about.
As parents, you are highly concerned about the health and hygiene of your kids. With most of the schools and colleges having long breaks, you must continuously educate and bring awareness to them regarding health and hygiene. Make sure your child has read the “Kids, Vayu & Corona. Who wins the fight?”, a comic for COVID-19, an awareness initiative by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Not just preach, as parents, you should practice health and hygiene tips. Remember, to wash your hands before you touch them, for their tender body may not be as immune, in comparison with the rest. While these little ones might slip into your room, when you are working from home and doing an important video conference, you could introduce your kids to the conference attendees, instead of shouting at them. Afterall serious work is boring!
You are the ones who are continuously connected to social media. You would have got hundreds of forwards, memes and posts on COVID-19. While you might be sharing these with thousands of other friends, ensure you DO NOT SPREAD RUMOURS. Always “CHECK” before you LIKE and “SHARE”. Ensure you keep your surroundings clean and hygienic. Respect the advisory issued by governments and parents. Defer your social obligations and in-person meetings. You can always be digitally connected, for you know the best in technology. While you may be connected continuously on your mobile or iPad, do not forget to wash your hands every time before you eat, as mobiles and portables can contain and transmit the virus.
Technology Tips & Tools
Before I conclude, I would like to share with you a few practical tips on the deployment of technology, work from home, and BYOD:
|Particulars||List of Tools||Remarks|
|Task Management||Basecamp (https://basecamp.com/)||Project Management app has message boards, to-do lists, schedules, docs, file storage, real-time group chat, and automatic check-in questions.|
|Slack (https://slack.com/intl/en-in/)||One of the most popular collaboration apps used by organizations for messaging, voice and video calls, sharing and editing documents, and can be used across devices. Slack also offers application programming interfaces to integrate complex services.|
|Few Other Options||Hangout Chats (https://gsuite.google. com/products/chat/)
|Time Tracking, Invoicing and tracking receipts||Harvest (https://www.getharvest.com)||This app comes in handy to track time and log expenses. You can also manage invoices. This app allows you to take images of receipts and keep track of expenses you can also monitor the time taken by colleagues on certain projects and stay up to date.|
|Free time tracking software. It’s a simple time tracker and timesheet app that lets you and your team track work hours across projects.|
|Few Other Options||Everhour (https://everhour.com/)
|Office Suite||G-suit apps (https://gsuite.google.co.in/)||Google Apps are some of the most used across the world for productivity apps like dogs Hangouts and drive can make coordinating and sharing files quite easy Google has also made the paid business version free for the time being|
|Microsoft Teams (https://teams.microsoft.com)||From sharing documents text and video chats with colleagues and access to Office 365 team is a one-stop collaboration shop. You will need a paid Microsoft 365 subscription to use it.|
|Zoho Remotely (https://www.zoho.com/remotely/)||Zoho Remotely will enable you to take your work remotely by offering a complete suite of web and mobile apps that will help you communicate, collaborate and be productive.
From Communication to Video conferencing, write, sheet, work drive, and projects, Remotely, is a complete solution for working remotely.
NOTE: Zoho Remotely will remain free till July 1, 2020
|Few Other Options||Open Office (https://www.openoffice.org/)
WPS Office (https://www.wps.com/)
Zoom Meetings (https://zoom.us/)
|Virtual Private Connectivity (VPN)||Open VPN
|OpenVPN provides flexible VPN solutions to secure your data communications, whether it’s for Internet privacy, remote access for employees, securing IoT, or for networking Cloud data centres.|
|Few Other Options||ExpressVPN (https://www.expressvpn.com/ )
VPN Unlimited (www.vpnunlimitedapp.com)
To conclude, move to Namasthe from Handshake. Do not panic. It is time we prepare carefully. At the same time, it’s our moral responsibility to help our community and workplace by restricting our movements and help contain this disease. Safe working and safe workplace.
Further reading and preparation:
1. Remember these key contacts in case of help:
The Helpline Number for coronavirus (India): +91-11-23978046
2. Helpline Numbers for State and Union Territory
3. Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist for large businesses (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/pdf/businesschecklist.pdf)
4. Official Website of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India (https://www.mohfw.gov.in/)
5. Kids, Vayu & Corona – A comic for COVID-19 Awareness– (https://www.mohfw.gov.in/Corona_comic_PGI.pdf)
About the Author
CA Narasimhan Elangovan, is a practicing Chartered Accountant and partner KEN & Co., Bengaluru, India. He is a Digital transformation catalyst, an author and believes in the power of technology to solve everyday problems. He can be reached at [email protected] or on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/narasimhan-elangovan-93678777)
Disclaimer- The views and apps discussed in this article are only for information purposes and are the personal views of the author. The author does not have any interest in any of the applications discussed and neither endorses any application. Readers are advised to take caution before choosing any of the applications. This publication contains information in summary form and is therefore intended for general guidance only. It is not intended to be a substitute for detailed research or the exercise of professional judgment. No part of this material shall be construed as a solicitation of services or an invitation of any sort whatsoever from KEN & Co or to create a professional relationship.