Businesses’ transition to digital communication: ‘It is too hard for everybody to relax, everybody is overtaxed...’
Large Russian businesses are suffering the most from the absence of handshaking and real emotions during brainstorming sessions that are not available when telecommuting
What did famous companies of the country face when there was needed sudden digitalisation due to the coronavirus pandemic and how did they adjust their work from home? These questions were discussed at an online conference Forced Digital Transformation. Anti-Fragility: How to Survive “Ideal Storm” in Skolkovo Moscow Management School on 8 April.
MasterCard: extension of validity of old cards
“Many have probably read a joke: ‘Who has launched the digital transformation in your company?’, ‘COVID-19 has’. This has happened quickly. The transition to digital communication was too fast for many companies,” Vice Rector in Academic and Educational Affairs of Skolkovo Moscow Management School, Professor of IESE Business School Yevgeny Kaganer announced the topic of the upcoming session. Here representatives of large Russian businesses from different spheres were gathered. Head of MasterCard in Russia Aleksey Malinovsky whose business, as Kaganer put it, “is traditionally already digitalised” was the first to deliver a speech.
Like many others, he participated in the online conference from home. According to him, Nassim Taleb’s forecast in 2007 is becoming true now: the pandemic made many companies look at digitalisation from another angle.
In Malinovsky’s opinion, now it has mostly affected either management or consumers. But the real sector has either completely stopped (like automotive plants) or remained in the same state it had (like non-stop production). “They don’t care about instantaneous digitalisation now, it is unclear what can be done within two weeks,” the head of MasterCard’s division stated.
Malinovsky said that the employees of his company were long not attached to a specific office, neither was he. “Today I can be in the Moscow office, tomorrow in the office in Waterloo, at our headquarters in Belgium or London or work from home like now,” the speaker explained. In a word, all employees have to be mobile, while processes must be digitalised.
But the top manager had to admit that, however, the load was completely incomparable with today’s one. The company has over 15,000 employees who work in over 200 countries around the world. Many of them have still been working in offices without remote access. Now almost everybody is telecommuting. This is why the capacity of the system for telecommuting has become a trial. But IT specialists haven’t let them down: everything is functioning well.
Head of MasterCard’s Russian subdivision reminded the audience that their key clients were banks and cardholders, all those who used cards to pay in everyday life. According to Malinovsky, his working day consisted of 80% or even 90% of talks, face-to-face meetings and arrangements: “eye-to-eye contact with a counteragent is very important”. In this segment, the result of virtual labour is a result of arrangements that ends with an important moment at the end of a meeting — handshaking. Unfortunately, there is no such an opportunity now. “My colleagues and I are suffering mostly from the absence of such meetings with partners, business colleagues. If something that would substitute an emotion of a real meeting in the virtual digital world were invented, it wouldn’t be bad,” he complained.
As “one of the most surprising examples” of new solutions, the businessman named MasterCard’s permit for banks to accept cards that became invalid “so that people who are in self-isolation now and stay home won’t have to worry that they have to run to a bank office because of the invalid card to change it”.
In the end, Malinovsky reminded the listeners that precisely his company was one of the first to start talking about contactless payment due to its safety, reliability and convenience. And now this has turned out to be not only security of transactions but also safety of people: contactless payments are considered to reduce the chance of contracting the new coronavirus.
SIBUR holding: how to gather employees lost in everyday life
Dmitry Konov, board chairman of SIBUR holding, said that his company had prepared for telecommuting beforehand without waiting for the pandemic. For instance, the transition to mobile offices was accelerated a lot. According to Konov, he had been working around the clock to provide it.
Konov explained that the organisation of telecommuting is, in fact, change of the whole order, and one must make sure that everybody is engaged in the process. The speaker says that when an employee is in the office and he lacks information, the employee knows where to get it. When the worker telecommutes, “he is lost, he doesn’t know what to do”. It seems that for this reason SIBUR created “rituals” and orders: they regulated what managers did, what the working day and week were like. Communication with colleagues and managers is a compulsory part of the programme.
SIBUR’s managers talk with each other twice a week and in the evenings at general meetings. But how to gather the workers lost in everyday life? “We do so that managers know who they are responsible for, gather them virtually every day, it is better to do this via teleconference, but somebody can’t do this because he has dogs, children, wives behind. This is why only audio is used,” Konov shared their experience. Every week ends with a summarised review. During these seven days, the manager must call every person in his circle to learn what’s happening to him.
The situation changes, according to Konov, two weeks later: everybody is engaged but... too stressed. “There is a feeling that as one doesn’t have to go to work, the working day begins earlier and ends later,” he explained. This is why the holding decided to turn off telecommuting employees in the second half of the day, on Tuesday and Friday: it is up to them to decide what to do during this time. “It is extremely hard to relax now, everybody is overtaxed,” he concluded his impression about telecommuting.
SIBUR made up another “pill” to jolt people: they allowed them to connect to a chat of board members where managers discuss important issues twice a week. For instance, firstly, the management explained what was happening, what they were going to do and why. 5,400 out of 20,000 employees working in the company joined the first such an “explanatory talk”.
Gazpromneft: employees are advised to determine boundaries of working day
Andrey Belevtsev, director of digital transformation at Gazpromneft PJSC, also said that the company had quite a big and tried and tested experience. This is why he can’t say that due to the coronavirus pandemic they began to rush like crazy to undertake something immediately. The emergency only proved that the steps were correct. Of course, they had to spur some solutions: for instance, they quickly prepared a system for telecommuting for 40,000 people. Gazpromneft, a non-stop operating company, doesn’t stop production, while all workers of the corporate arm were allowed to telecommute.
Belevtsev stated that the projects that require a physical presence on contractors’ sites are put off. “In the current situation, first of all, we had to deal with the projects that are at advanced stages and will have an economic effect soon,” he says. He is convinced that they shouldn’t forget strategic projects that the company needs in the long term. But again, due to restricted access to production sites, they have to be postponed.
Belevtsev admitted that the telecommuting setting became a big challenge. The company even issued a special corporate guidebook: people must get clear instructions and corporate practice in such a situation. When people go to the office, they have this practice formed. A handful knows how to work from home. Hence the recommendations on how to behave and establish a working day when telecommuting.
“It gets funny, but we explain to people that because you start working from home, the working and non-working days become one thing. And this time, this can bring to professional burnout. We advise to anyway determining the boundaries of the working day,” the speaker said. “They are at home but work. This is why it is necessary to put proper clothes on and arrange a workplace. One shouldn’t forget that at a certain point the working day must end too: you must leave it and change your clothes,” the speaker talked about the recommendations adopted.
Metalinvest: one can escape from two children from one-roomed flat to the office
Director General of Metalinvest Andrey Varichev also reminded that the company began digitalisation in the company not yesterday and not even on 10 March. But he called the shift of workers to telecommuting a challenge that the company in general handled. “None quick decision has failed. Though general communication had been affected, of course,” the speaker said.
Varichev told the people that the problem was often hidden in the not readiness of mobile network infrastructure to the amount of remote work that had gone up many times. “I travel, while planes are not flying. The first two enterprises are 30 km far from each other, the third is 170 km far. I drive a car in Moscow, I am on my way and at this moment there is no signal. What telecommuting are we talking about? I have to find a point, stop, enter the network...” he complained. In Varichev’s opinion, people shouldn’t be attached to a location to make sure that remote access operates fast and well.
When they began talking about the organisation of telecommuting for its employees, the company tried to reduce people’s tension. “Imagine that a family with two little children live in a one-roomed flat. Where can a person go during 8 hours? Where to focus on work with files, documents and tables, analytics? It is hard,” he put an example.
This is why the company introduced a soft, optional regime of telecommuting. The workers were given a chance of having access to the office and provided with the right to work in their workplace if it is impossible to work from home.
“Though the office was completely closed for three days. The system of solvency and quick decision making didn’t collapse,” Varichev says.