The coronavirus pandemic has been a great shock to global economies.
As most countries are struggling to adjust to this new reality, the IT departments around the world are giving their own fight, trying to support millions of personnel in the new challenge of 100% teleworking. All of a sudden, IT personnel in most companies are recognized as “key players” “critical staff” and are ready to become the drivers of a digitally savvy workforce. The new era heroes!
There is no doubt that this is the first time in history when 100% of most companies’ staff has been asked to work from home without prior notice or some kind of drill or exercise. This has really been done at a pace, speed and scale that has never been seen before.
In this course, some sectors, due to the origin and nature of their business, have been pioneers: Maritime is one of them. Why?
Maritime is now one of the major verticals undergoing transformation through technology. However, the specific industry, due to its nature (having to deal with ships that require 24×7 support), was using teleworking at least two decades before the pandemic.
In the early 2000’s, most of us were using software programs like PCanywhere to remotely connect to our office PC and follow-up emergencies (and even routine tasks!) during after-office hours and weekends. Of course, if an instant power disconnection turned off our office PC, or if the Internet connection (dial – up at the time!) went down, the whole operation went to hell J
None of this seemed to be any technological revolution or innovation back then! It was business as usual! All of us in shipping were sleeping with one eye open, and our spouses definitely remember with horror the sound of the modem connecting with the other side modem across the “modern” telephone infrastructure…
With the Covid outbreak and the requirement to set up teleworking, for Maritime this was a piece of cake! Server upgrades, home laptops, extra licenses, extra Internet bandwidth, leased circuits, VPNs, secure connections, setting up of teleconference equipment and working groups, electronic approvals, all this was completed in no time!
Although normally these are things that take weeks and months—in some cases, probably years to get done, now it took only a couple of days!
Of course the first week was rough: Most employees were struggling to achieve balance between their home and personal life on one side, and work on the other. Most of us ended up working 15 hours a day and having no time for anything else. Of course, very natural, since there wasn’t anything else! Only work and Netflix J
Looking ahead, some believe that the current crisis will spur a greater focus and higher spending on IT. It is safe to believe that spending more on IT will make Shipping more efficient and ultimately help save money.
Lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic can accelerate the effort to allow working from any mobile device, anywhere. Now that we are getting a better sense of what works and what doesn’t, leaders are identifying how certain aspects of telework can be improved and made permanent.
There is a question, however: Do Shipping organizations have the adequate culture required to incorporate teleworking in their routine schedule, even when this crisis subsides?
Well, yes, maybe, maybe not! The answer is, in my opinion, that many traditional ship-owners still require the physical presence of their employees and claim that no work is done if you don’t see them face-to-face. Isn’t this a bit weird and contradicting? On one hand we dream the Digital Transformation and prepare to remotely manage autonomous vessels and on the other hand we are required to sit in our desk chair, so as to prove that we work??
A new need therefore emerges: to establish new procedures and metrics so as to be able to prove our “amount” of work and measure our productivity!
Really, how do you measure the productivity of someone who works from the office? Do you simply count the number of hours he works? Of course not! Apart from the very obvious answer, that you see the work get done, there are several KPIs, benchmarking tools and processes which can perfectly be applied also in teleworking! So why the hassle and suspiciousness?
Furthermore, equally important as technology is the culture that one enterprise must create. Working from home means having to constantly split time between work, family and managing a healthy balance. Ideally we would like to build a culture in which management says “it’s OK to stop working at XX p.m.”, that understands we may need to look after our kids and not to get pissed off if the dog starts barking during our Webex. It should be an opportunity to give some more autonomy to the people, to be a symbol of empowerment and trust, in such a way that work becomes tempting and appealing to the new generation, which is the target group of people that most enterprises try to attract!
We therefore have to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go!
By Katerina Raptaki, ICT Manager of Navios Group of companies