Work from home!

Work from home!

Industry players resort to remote operations amid COVID-19 pandemic

Staff reporter

Sunday, March 15, 2020

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Working from home could become the new normal in coming months as the world comes to grips with the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Reports are that companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have activated remote work policies amid the global pandemic. Locally, too, at least two companies have moved in the same direction.

Kingston Wharves Limited and Seprod Group last week shared in a Jamaica Observer Editor's forum that they had responded proactively amid the health crisis, allowing sections of their staff complement to work from home.

“At Seprod all the administrative type persons are now equipped to work remotely at home,” said the company's CEO, Richard Pandohie.

“For our manufacturing people being the bulk of our organisations obviously this doesn't happen; they have to be there. But we have put in place measures in the event that this thing gets to a critical level. We can keep critical staff on our sites. We can house them, manage them and, basically ensure that we have some continuity,” he added. “There is additional investment for it to happen. In the case of the manufacturers we have to invest in the right infrastructure to do that. So there is that upfront investment but, as we move forward it is a better thing for the ecosystem; the employees spend a lot less time traversing on the road with fewer costs to travel to work and, then get back home,” Pandohie stated.

This move, Pandohie explained, came as part of a $5-million investment in infrastructure improvement with no additional ongoing costs. Pandohie argued that pandemic or not, remote work is a much-needed cultural shift in Jamaica's economy.

“This is an opportunity for Jamaica to address some of the productivity issues we are having because so often we still have the culture of people having to come to a location to work. This COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for us to fix certain things and to improve some areas.

“A number of companies have now realised that you really don't need almost 20 to 30 per cent of your staff to come to work every day. They can stay at home and still be as effective,” he said, adding that already at Seprod, the culture is shifting towards remote working for administrative support staff.

“We do have a culture of remote working generally speaking but, it took some time to put the protocol in place and then sensitise and train people. We have been doing this for the last two to three months. As important to the cultural change also is that we had to spend a lot of time sensitising people about what it means to work from home. It doesn't mean you get to stay in your pajamas all day and forget that you are actually working,” said Pandohie.

The manufacturing executive added that while the COVID-19 spurred the company into the action, plans for this shift had been afoot from 2016 with the threat of Hurricane Matthew.

“COVID is like any other disaster and a couple of years ago when we had the threat of Matthew and, when we looked at the situation we were at risk of being significantly down so started putting plans in place from then. COVID-19 has just accelerated those plans so now, it has made us look at our organisation differently,” he said.

CEO of Kingston Wharves Limited, Mark Williams, agreed with Pandohie, explaining that 20 per cent of their staff has been working from home since Wednesday.

“The initial investments are in laptop computers. Other than that, there is really no additional cost, in fact you save in electricity and water usage,” said Williams.

Meanwhile, National Disaster Risk Management Council led by Prime Minister Holness heightened measures this week to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, designating the entire island a disaster area under the 2015 Disaster Risk Management Act.

Bull Bay, which has virtually become the epicentre of Jamaica's community spread has been placed under travel restrictions and security forces given powers to prevent the spread of the virus under the Emergency Powers Act and the Public Health Act.

So far, there have been right confirmed cases of the virus locally.

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