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Workplace management in the new normal

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Countries have begun to lift lockdowns but the danger posed by the novel coronavirus has not passed. It is clear that as the world tries to save both lives with livelihoods, workplaces will have to operate with a new set of rules and several precautions. For the life sciences sector, as a frontline soldier in the battle against COVID-19, optimising its productivity while assuring complete employee safety and ensuring compliance with government’s new regulations and guidelines, will be a very complex task.

Therefore, effective workforce planning ably supported by technology, will be crucial for pharma companies to survive and thrive in an environment where social distancing, complex shift rotations and remote monitoring will be the new normal, explains Sumeet Doshi, Country Manager, India, Kronos Incorporated to Lakshmipriya Nair  

How will workforce planning change in a post-COVID-19 world? What will be the critical contributors to an effective workforce plan? 

In the past, planning has been more long term in nature and workforce planning was mostly focused on headcount planning – the basic assumption being that the entire workforce was scheduled for all days except on weekly off days. With a predictable workforce, coupled with low labour costs in India, dynamic workforce optimisation based on people availability wasn’t a big concern. However, in a post-COVID 19 world, companies will need to operate in a situation where there is significant variability in workforce availability and still need to be as productive as possible. This can only happen with more robust planning that factors in more number of dynamic variables.

Also, it is not enough that optimised workforce plans are created. The risk of not being able to enforce social distancing is much too high and hence, tracking how these plans are executed in real-time at the workplace is going to be a critical factor in their effectiveness.

What tangible actions will organisations have to take protect its workforce while optimising their potential, as they try to navigate heretofore uncharted waters?

Right now, the global response to the COVID crisis rests on two pillars – social distancing and continued sanitisation efforts. Organisations will have to take the same route as well, however, there are several challenges. Social distancing at the workplace will mean having to reduce the number of staff on the premises at any point in time. No doubt, this will impact productivity drastically and hence to compensate, we could now be looking at adding more working hours in the form of longer shift hours, longer working days etc.

With multiple people at the workplace, constant sanitisation is essential. Sanitisation schedules need to be tightly woven into operation schedules so that one does not impact the efficacy of the other.

Also, with reduced staffing levels, every person on the team is a critical resource. Organisations will need to ensure that they have the right mix of people and skills available to handle the job efficiently It also means organisations will need to take a deeper look at roles that can function remotely in order to provide the safest possible environment to people who need to be on the premises.

And for those who need to be on location, the impetus on their safety becomes paramount.  This could mean keeping track of the zones where employees are from and rapidly responding to updates from health authorities on quarantine zones. The process will also need to be managed more tightly, right from when the employee leaves his home, till the time he safely reaches his home after a productive day at work.

What are the challenges and complexities which are unique to pharma workforce management? According to you, how can they be tackled effectively?

There are new challenges to pharma which are also impacting the rest of the world like labour shortage, dynamic changes to labour law and the need to respond quickly to uncertain situations at the workplace.

In addition to these, new regulations and laws will be an uncharted area for pharma companies. Compliance has always been very important in the pharma industry, especially when it comes to traceability at the shop-floor. In the past, it was mostly around identifying the people present if they had the right skills and were scheduled to be there at that time.

Now the level of tracking could increase to also look at whether guidelines on social distancing and contract tracing have been adhered to appropriately.

It would be important for organisations to have systems and processes that allow them to rapidly respond to changes. It may be as simple as increasing working hours in a day, or redefining overtime rules or as complex and changing the mix of the workforce for a planned production volume.

What kind of investments and upgrades in equipment and technology will pharma companies have to make to build an environment which is safe, conducive to productivity and compliant with evolving workplace regulations?

On an immediate basis, the investments in technology and infrastructure would mostly be those that help create a safe and healthy workplace. These will include things like physical infrastructure for sanitisation at the workplace, temperature screening at entry, contactless attendance using mobile and facial biometrics and possibly even devices and apps that monitor physical distances between people during the day.

We can also expect to see an increasing number of initiatives around realigning workplace policies, processes and systems to implement social distancing and skeletal staffing via staggered shifts, revised working hours and more complex shift rotation plans. Remote working technology is also another critical investment that can allow select support and administrative functions to operate productively outside of the physical premises.

Which are the technologies or tools that can really empower organisations in the life sciences sector to continue their fight against COVID-19 as an essential service provider, yet safeguard their employees?

Right now the focus is around ensuring employee safety while restarting operations. However, very soon, companies will need to look at how are they maximising productivity and optimising costs amidst these very adverse situations in order to run sustainable operations. To this effect, balancing productivity while still managing a skeletal staff and adhering to social distancing will require modern workforce management tools that can optimise employee availability, skill requirements and production workloads. With the situation changing on a daily basis, new productivity norms will need to be understood – tools that help monitor productivity and provide real-time analytics will be invaluable.

Another major area will be around using workforce analytics more effectively to trace employees on the shop floor, whether it is to do with contact tracing of affected employees or tracing employees to different production batches as part of standard CGMP requirements or even monitoring the right skill fitment of employees based on their scheduled jobs.

We are working with a few organisations to take this one step forward where we look at ways to trace their employees, right from the time they leave their homes till the time they are back again. This can be done by linking schedules, workforce availability information and transportation systems together for a comprehensive view on the employee’s journey between the home and the workplace.

If we look at silver linings, how does this crisis offer opportunities to build a more agile workforce, strengthen communication models and increase focus on employee health and well-being in the long-run? How can Kronos be a partner in this exercise?

For years now, India has been known as a low labour cost market, but unfortunately has also had relatively lower labour productivity. With organisations being forced to manage with smaller teams, it will definitely usher in new initiatives to plan and optimise the workforce better as well as track and improve productivity. This, in turn, should generate more innovation at the workplace.

The current crisis is forcing organisations to move towards more centralised, real-time systems that allow them to understand ground realities and communicate faster and more efficiently across locations. This will invariably lead to better decision making around business priorities and employee health and safety.

For many years now, Kronos has been the global leader in the workforce management space. We have helped many leading organisations in India reduce costs, manage compliance and improve productivity. Our cloud-based workforce management solutions offer advanced scheduling features using machine learning, real-time analytics, and integration with facial recognition and thermal devices that can help organisations manage the current crisis and put in place robust scalable solutions for the future.

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