Featured today in our exclusive series of Business Leaders’ Perspectives, Nabeel Sultan, Chairman, Nabay.com, shares how his company is training its team members in acquiring multiple skills to optimise productivity and cut costs. Excerpts:
What is your brief assessment of the position of your company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the peak season of Ramadan when business in Oman faced a challenge like never before?
The impact was great as we were all ready to move to the next phase of our strategy and had new team members join the company to execute the plan. In the beginning the operations came to a halt, but then we started adopting to the new norm and started becoming more productive.
On a positive note, the overall impact was positive, in the sense that it increased the demand as well as the awareness about the importance of e-commerce and the future of online business. On the other hand, the business suffered from the IT and technology services side since there was no activity in the sector.
What plans/strategies did you adopt to maintain your operations during the lockdown period over the past 2-3 months? How beneficial did this prove to be?
In general, the way we do our business has dramatically changed in the past decade. Now it’s all about networks and connectivity. We continued our operations working from home. Taking full advantage of video conferencing and the ‘new traditional’ways of communication (i.e. WhatsApp, mobile, emails etc.)
The benefits of this new way of running the operations made our operations run to a reasonable level of efficiency. More importantly, going forward, it will bring operational efficiency in terms of cost control related to travel, admin, and many other costs of running the business.
Looking ahead, what are your immediate and short-term plans that you believe will help the company recalibrate and move forward with renewed purpose?
Our immediate plan, besides cost control and cash flow management, is to bring the operations to a higher speed in terms of delivering our services.
What immediate changes are required in your workplaces, with regard to physical Infrastructure, employee welfare, work culture and business promotion, in view of new guidelines related to COVID-19 (social distancing, hygiene/sanitation, health and fitness)?
No change in physical structure is required for the time being. We are adhering to the health and safety guidelines recommended globally.
What do you see as the most feasible solutions for mitigating losses experienced due to the lockdown (cost-cutting measures, downsizing staff, enhancing performance, increasing work hours, any other). Do you consider these as short-term or long term measures?
We have resumed offices with a four-hour work day and given the flexibility for the staff to continue working from their homes for the remaining of the day. We continue with the reduced salaries and other cost cutting measures.
We will continue applying these measures and will work harder on improving operational efficiencies going forward. We are also training our staff team members on acquiring multiple skills to optimise productivity and cut costs.
Currently, we are working on a new idea that might prove to be a great entrepreneurial initiative and benefit many young Omani entrepreneurs.
What are your primary concerns regarding building/maintaining your company image, post-COVID-19, as well as improving performance to regain connections and trust with your consumers/clients?
The supply chain plays a crucial role in the success of any business and we are not an exception to that. In the e-commerce business, the spectrum of dependencies is wide and my primary concerns are to see major disruptions in the supply chain that might affect our image and deliverables.
Did you have the option of working from home for your staff during the lockdown and to what extent was it helpful? Will you continue to offer that option as part of your new strategy?
During the first three months, we all worked from home. Up until recently, when the Supreme Committee announced relaxed guidelines, we resumed going to the office with shortened hours (8.30am – 1.30 pm) and continue working from home for the remaining time. Going forward, and depending on the nature of the work, we might have two types of employment contracts with different compensation structures. These are just ideas and nothing has been finalised.
What lessons were learnt from this crisis that would help redefine your corporate goals as well as helping your company experience sustained growth in the years ahead?
We need to implement the ‘Black Swan Strategy’ (don’t Google it) from time to time where we create the worst case scenarios that might affect our business, and brain storm ideas and come up with solutions to re-engineer our corporate strategy.
What additional challenges do you anticipate in 2020/2021 and would you now place greater emphasis on risk management so that you are not caught off guard again?
The biggest challenge and concern that is and will further affect purchasing power and consumer spending is the overall health of the economy. This will not be mitigated even if the oil prices jump back to pre-COVID-19 levels or better as our economy has already entered into a critical level. My strategy will be to optimise my resources and deliverables.
In your opinion, how important it is for staff to undergo training to realign themselves with the company's policies/new strategies as well as to immerse themselves in a new work culture that the pandemic has dictated?
During the unprecedented peak COVID-19 times, it was a daily hands on learning and training experience that we all went through in operating our business. Going forward, we will fine tune some of the practices that we implemented during the crisis time and add them as our standard business practice going forward. Other practices will not continue as normal business practice but will be added to the inventory of crisis management tools for future use.
How long do you envisage it will be, if at all, that your particular sector is performing at pre-COVID-19 levels?
For my sector, performing at pre-COVID-19 level means shrinking. COVID-19 has given a strong message to the economies and entities who were reluctant to transform their organisations to fit the new business realities that e-commerce, in its broad sense (all e-transactions), is the new way of doing things.
Globally, I think performance will be back within a year to pre-COVID-19 levels. This does not include the oil-based economies as their recovery is dependent on the recovery in oil prices and many other challenges that these economies are facing.
Are there examples of new thinking in other sectors that yours could adopt to good effect?
Nothing I can think of.
What is the No 1 positive aspect you would take from the last three months?
Personally, this crisis has been an amazing experience at all levels. Despite all the pain – be it mental, emotional or financial – I went through, I reworked my short-term and long-term plans at a personal as well as professional level. And as Nassim Taleb (Lebanese-American scholar) saysin his ‘Incerto’series,’If you survive a shocking, volatile, and uncertain event and it doesn’t break you, being strong is not good enough, you need to adapt to become better and stronger than ever before’.