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There are no two opinions about the fact that these are trying times. I would like to write about it in three heads; organizational challenges, economic challenges, and people challenges.

 Organizational Challenges

The organizational challenges are unprecedented. They had not faced such issues before. Particularly in Pakistan, where the average age of most businesses is around 30 years, this is all so very new. We shall see what has changed in this time.

Work from Home – many organizations allowed their employees to work from home, those who could. It applied mostly to office staff; the manufacturing staff had to be physically present to continue manufacturing. It was announced suddenly, and under pressure from the government. No one was prepared for it and everyone considered it would be over soon. It did not end soon; it dragged and is still lingering on. The organizations generally had no guideline as to how the work from home will be carried out. The quantum of work, the timelines, the supervision of work were all grey areas which are still grey. As the #workfromhome is expected to continue for more time, the organizations should come up with clear guidelines on this subject.

Another #workfromhome challenge has been the facilities for this mode of work. Many people did not maintain a work-desk at home. Similarly, many did not have a proper internet connection at home. Furthermore, staff works on desktop PCs in the office. A large majority neither owns personal desktop or laptop at home nor has the money to buy one immediately. Even if they could buy, why should they spend their own money for company work? These are all relevant issues which are still unaddressed. #workfromhome in Pakistan has been mostly a down time and much productivity did not come out of this period. No wonder, most organizations have literally pushed people to come back to offices to work. The exceptions are those institutions which have been forcefully closed; for example, educational institutions. The story of private educational institutions is another heartbreaking story.

All said and done, the #workfromhome has not yielded desired results. If it has to be continued, it should be more clearly defined and designed.

Stay at Home – has been even more disturbing on two counts. #stayathome and do nothing does not make our people feel secure, knowing how the system works. It makes the entrepreneur upset that he may have to pay for no work. The response to #stayathome has been extremely variable. The MNCs have maintained a full compensation package payment stance in most cases; local entrepreneurs have done from full payment to immediate layoff, and all variations in between.

Indeed, it is perplexing that the staff does not work at all but is still on HR list. As the timeframe for COVID19 lockdown increased, the agitation on this count has also increased. The government does not have any guidelines on this. It offered to pay staff salaries for three months from State Bank of Pakistan and converting that amount as a soft loan on low mark up to be repaid over extended period. It was a step in-time which gave substantial relief to larger organizations who availed this facility promptly. It also saved many from losing their jobs immediately. The facility shall cease from July and it will have to be seen what will happen next.

#stayathome offered opportunity to refresh and retrain on skills which some companies have availed. The number however is small. Most companies remained paralyzed, inactive or quick to relieve people. If #stayathome has to continue for more time, organizations need to make proper plans for this period and try to make effective use of this time for the organization and people both.

Maintaining Supply Chain – has been a tangible challenge throughout, and till now. With all kinds of transport closed, and all areas locked down, there was no logic for exemption of certain industries, such as pharmaceuticals. The raw materials could not be arranged, the packaging materials were not available and so on. The local situation resolved early after representations to government; the international situation remained beyond control. Even as I write this blog, the international flights are few and far between, the freights are much higher than usual, and the lead times have multiplied. These factors have put extreme pressure on supply chain who are working between the devil of high prices and the deep sea of unpredictable lead times.

Pakistan does not produce a huge number of basic materials, particularly chemicals. We are still reliant on imports. This is truer for specialty chemicals which may be required in small quantities but are critical to the process. High tech components, consumables and such things are entirely imported. Lockdown is all over the world and supply chain has been disrupted in most parts.

Supply chain needs to devise innovative measures to keep up with the challenges of present times.

Shall Continue InshaAllah……

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