I was remiss to post yet another piece with #COVID-19 title in it, but I have not seen any yet in my feed, related to offshore partner leader and team members care, during this challenging time. So this post is written with good intent to influence you to extend your leadership across to offshore partners if you have them in your supply chain.
We have had several conversations with our Australian client leaders last week, who have offshore services in IT and Finance in India and The Philippines and we noticed a few key areas that, if you have not addressed already, you might want to (see below). The points have an intercultural business perspective, as each government, leader and employee group responds differently.
Have you asked your Client Relationship Vendor Leader how they are managing their staff and the work in response to COVID-19? Have they approached you as yet?
- Don’t assume your procurement or some other senior leader will look after this from the Australian side.
- Don’t accept the response, “workers are fine, no one is sick”, “we are taking our lead from the Indian/Philippine government”, “we are taking the necessary precautions as a large MNC”, “we have a nurse onsite to assist staff”, “if staff are sick, we are sending them home”.
- Why? People may be infecting others without realising it and if people are presenting as unwell at work, then it is too late. Read this article (a credible one) if you need more info
- Culturally, both India and the Philippines are a highly committed and loyal workforce, who often put work before self-care. It is unlikely that an individual will choose to self-isolate without clear instructions from a leader or company directive.
- In addition, your client-vendor relationship often puts a distance between you both, where culturally there is a need to give you confidence that everything is under control, when it might not be.
- While both countries have lower confirmed cases reported than Italy, the chances of a high, undetected infection rate is likely, given crowded conditions, family visits to rural areas, congested transport systems etc. Social systems are also different in these countries, with the elderly often living with the family unit, increasing the risk of the spread to this vulnerable age group.
Social distancing & remote working
- While the flexible option in Australia is more easily leveraged (many leaders and staff can work from home and connect into our offshore teams), Indian and Philippine staff likely need to come into the office.
- Indian and Filipino Leaders, SME’s, however, are generally able to work remotely – given their access to technology, however team members may not have this option – due to customer data security, access to technology at home, the home being set up for work etc.
- In addition, even though offshore leaders have the option to work remotely, I suspect they will feel responsible for staff and turn up to work anyway.
What should you do? Care and help with Business Continuity
- Ask your partner leaders from a care perspective, how they are coping and genuinely go further to gain confidence that an individual contributor, offshore has the power to self-isolate. Request that teams are briefed and that individual circumstances are looked after, especially for vulnerable staff (pregnant women, care-givers for the elderly and small children, etc.)
- Work through scenario planning to manage risk over the next few weeks: E.g.
- Are you getting a spike in customer requests that will require an offshore team to process more? Does your partner have the capacity? Often teams are lean due to cost.
- What if 5-10% of the offshore workforce has to self-isolate and there is no remote working – Are you prepared to lose this % of staff, what will you do? Can you re-organise workflows?
- Does the partner have access to resources, fast – can they provide laptops to staff and set them up to work remotely from home to carry critical functions, does your contract cover for that, given IP, security, privacy?
- Can you contribute to a charter bus or another closed loop form of travel for staff, if remote working is not an option? One of our clients is offering support to fund a charter bus, as staff cannot work remotely and they are providing a nurse onsite with access to testing kits.
- What are your partner’s sick leave and pay policies? Many partners staff contracts may not allow for this situation – “feeling unwell and choosing to self-isolate without seeing a medical professional to gain a certificate”
At some point we will return to a new normal – what you do now is critical. Self-isolation/remote working for offshore team members may not be an option, what will you do to lead and support partners? It is not enough to say, “they are a large vendor, they will be looking after their own staff, surely?”
Div Pillay is a cross cultural expert and Co-Founder of MindTribes – a Telstra Business Award Finalist & Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow company that, optimises performance by realigning people and leaders, when working across different country and organisation cultures.