The Covid-19 pandemic has inevitably brought a fair amount of disruption to the way we live and work. Despite the initial challenges, India Inc. is now better prepared to ensure a high degree of business continuity with minimum turmoil for the next few months. It has been devising post-lockdown risk mitigation plans, including a combination of skeletal crew and social distancing, and improving remote working experience and productivity to ensure smooth workflow even as the pandemic remains a clear and present danger.

Remote working and the ‘human’ factor

An important aspect of remote working is identifying the best tech tools for connectivity: Cisco Webex for video conferencing or Microsoft Teams for group chats; WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Skype for long distance and overseas calls; cloud applications like Dropbox, Microsoft Teams, and Google Drive to move files to the cloud for uninterrupted access to important documents.

This is a critical shift in focus for organisations—when corporate strategies gather dust in the executive boardrooms while bedrooms and study halls become war zones. It falls upon the management, beginning with the CEO, to keep employees healthy and constantly boost morale while overseeing a historic remote-working experiment. The to-do list is of crucial importance. Critical considerations under this should include regular communication, ensuring mentorship, and empowering L&D with virtual classrooms.

Lab operations in social distancing mode

Though R&D is core to engineering companies, actual physical presence for project completions is being actively reconsidered. In a short span of time, we have seen social distancing and physical ramp down in R&D labs and design centres to a state where only a few members of a core team physically occupy the labs to support remote activities of all the other teams of engineers. Another interesting concept that has emerged during these times is of ‘Secured Homelabs’. Remote test engineers send their respective work to these Homelabs where it is then integrated and run, ensuring the innovation labs that are run along with clients continue to operate, albeit in a virtual environment.

There is also an altogether new opportunity to bring R&D labs to the doorstep of the customers. Technology companies can create digital clones of their R&D labs and invite customers for a virtual walkthrough of their innovations. This is a route not too many have taken before and, if done well, this experience can top even a “real” visit!

Data safety first. Always

Measures such as data being copied to a workspace and then being transferred to engineering/development centres can be a welcome step to avoid data mirroring. Client firewalls are held by a logical separation between vendor networks and client networks—mainly through VPN, for secure communication. Employing encrypted hard disks and monitoring ports should also be implemented. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), data backup and recovery to safeguard critical data, and antivirus protection and operating system upgrades, are critical in ensuring secure virtual machines.

Stride towards normalcy

As the country gradually comes out of the lockdown, there is likely to be an easing of restrictions to help in opening of industries. This is good for the economy, especially sectors like manufacturing and the technology. But organisations will also need to keep an eye on the resumption of operations as any undue haste to bring back employees to office could heighten the risk of new cases. Hence, it is better to be safe than sorry and follow the mandated guidelines while bringing back the workforce to the office.

Current circumstances present technology companies with a unique opportunity for providing unwavering support to communities in this difficult hour. ER&D services companies with multi-domain and multi-industry expertise can use their considerable experience and intellectual capital to come out with breakthrough solutions for industries ranging from healthcare to manufacturing and telecommunications. Technology firms need to think out of the box, collaborate with each other, and come up with solutions to many of the problems plaguing humanity today.

Unlocking the future

ER&D spend remains core to any company and a part of its strategic decision-making for long-term growth plans. Despite the many uncertainties that lie ahead, this is really the time for companies to invest in technology to make sure they remain relevant in the long-term. Product road map and the complete lifecycle management arc are areas that will persist through these challenging times and technology firms operating out of India surely have the wherewithal to partner enterprises in this journey. For ER&D services firms, the crisis is a call to deliver critical solutions around healthcare, diagnosis, testing, and cost of treatment that will help society at large.

To do that effectively and fast, tech players will have to adapt, innovate, and focus more on output than on traditional modes of working. What is essential to keep in mind while we attempt to resume more traditional modes of work is to devise a model for the “new normal” which will entail a mix of the workforce returning to the office vs those continuing to work from home for some time to come. This ratio will gradually support the former category as the Covid-19 crisis slowly eases across the planet, but it is undoubtedly going to be a protracted battle. Instead of acting in haste, organisations must proceed with caution while resuming working at office.

Views are personal. The author is CEO and MD, L&T Technology Services.

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