Working in a post COVID-19 world

Story – Gautam Viswanathan

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by all of us, and while many aspects of our lives have been greatly affected, one of the areas that have been most strongly hit are our jobs. Some people have felt a greater impact, of course, but there is no doubting that whether local or expat, we’ve all had to bear the brunt of COVID-19.

While the Omani government has put in place several measures to help ease the situation, and is considering introducing many others to help all of us, plans are already being drawn up for how companies can help bounce back from the disease, and return to full productivity.

While it is hoped that productivity will resume and an economic revival could begin once the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is over, Shahswar Al Balushi says how economic recovery will be brought about will need to change. He recently led a series of workshops called the Labour Labs programme, which looked at how to optimise employee morale for companies, under the Sultanate’s economic diversification programme, Tanfeedh.

“This is also affecting the management style of companies,” he said. “They are having a serious problem, trying to manage this and run their business as well, which is tough, but that is the package that comes to them at the moment. They need to look at how they can actually manage the welfare of the workforce, and make sure that efficiency is there.

“If you look at the government for example, they have reduced the number of people working out of offices by 70 per cent, and therefore, the government is seeing that it is capable to do the work using technology, and less people present in the office,” Al Balushi went on to say. “You don’t have to have face-to-face interaction to make things happen. You don’t need to take papers physically for things to take place.”

“They’ve also realised that some ministries are ahead in terms of their IT capabilities, while others are behind, so they are looking to close that gap,” he explained. “If I were to look at the future, the way of doing business in the future is going to be completely different from what we are used to. This would require a completely different strategy of how we are going to do things. The efficiency, the type of workforce, all of this is going to be affected.”

While Oman may not have had as many cases of COVID-19 infections as other countries in the Arab World and the rest of the globe, he said it was in no way a means for people to take the novel coronavirus lightly, or underestimate the harm it caused people. Having witnessed first-hand the debilitating effects of the disease, Shahswar was only too willing to put business aside for a minute and advice people to take the safety measures that have been put in place to curb the spread of the virus seriously.

“We still see and read a few – and I am sorry for using the word – irresponsible activities on the part of others, and I think it has already embedded in the minds of people right now that this is a very serious thing,” he admitted. “It can have a very high cost. When you get infected by corona, it is not a joke.

I have been talking to a lot of people who have had it, and it is not a form of influenza,” he added. “It is very tough…it is a very tough disease to handle, and your physique, the high temperature, everything is difficult to handle. I think it is already in the minds of people that this is not a joke. It is a serious thing that is affecting us in a big way.”

When the airport opens up again – as it will, eventually – stringent security measures will be put in place to minimise any further infection that can take place, to the lowest. A senior official at Oman Air has told T Magazine that a raft of new measures will be put into place to ensure the curve of infections remains flattened.

“In the past, before the airport closed down for scheduled flights, we had a few reported cases, and we did the best that we could, checking passenger temperatures or advising them to go to hospitals,” he explained. “However, before Muscat International Airport does start scheduled flights, we believe we will have the necessary procedures very clearly specified.

“We will have bio-screening, and on the aircraft, if infections still happen, we have an agreement with the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) that will see us have isolation areas mapped out inside the aircraft,” added the official.

With personal hygiene being of paramount importance for at least the next few months, and with e-commerce already a medium through which thousands of products are bought, Dr CK Anchan, a trade advisor in Oman, says this might be the time to ensure online purchases continue to remain an alternative and reliable means for people to buy goods. He also had other ideas for Oman when it came to digitisation, some that would bring both immediate and long-term benefits to the country.

“E-retail will be taking place on a big scale,” he said. “I think we will see a lot of digitisation coming in in the future. Every country will be looking into this. While Oman does have the ability – when you look at Oman’s youth – they are really good at IT. This is one of the opportunities in which Oman can look to promote collaboration.”

“We must have digitised services wherever we can,” added Anchan. “We do have some hosting services that are digitised, but why not look at making Oman a hub? Let’s make the best of these services. This is an area we must seriously focus on, and try to tap.”

Explaining the benefits of e-services, Dr Anchan was also quick to point out that retaining employees would need to remain a priority in the future, for two main reasons: their skills would help companies resume full-scale operations, while the money they earned could be spent in local markets, helping re-energise the economy.  

“Holding on to employees will be the key factor: any employee at this time, we must understand, is also a consumer,” he explained. “Also any time you let go of an employee, it is going to be extremely difficult to part with an experienced employee of yours, particularly at the present time, and any time you want to get back that experience, it is going to be extremely challenging.

Anchan went on to say, “I do understand, that considering today’s economy, one of the questions asked is surely going to be about retaining employees in the current environment, but my message to the private sector is to discuss the ongoing situation with your employees and encourage them to give their best, because the kind of consumers we require within the country will take our country ahead. If you lose employees and consumers, then you will lose a lot of business, your costs will continue to inflate. You need to understand this link if you need to understand the value of retaining employment.” – [email protected]