How Allied Blenders & Distillers is adapting to remote working

The Company has come up with an online platform, ABD Academy, to impart cross-functional knowledge

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Covid-19 has created significant challenges for businesses, in India and across the world. What is important to look at is how well prepared are businesses to meet the challenges, despite the locking and unlocking of states in the country.

While the current situation is certainly not favourable for distillers and their businesses, Allied Blenders & Distillers has resumed its distillery operations, started production and begun to manage its sales and distribution activities. With its comprehensive ‘Back to Work’ strategy, ABD ensures safe working practices including social distancing, effective sanitisation and equipping its employees with the required personal protective equipment (PPE).

“The ABD executive team is constantly monitoring and evaluating the situation. There are systems and processes in place to respond appropriately, as things change and evolve.”

The strategy involves several reimbursements for the employees, especially for the frontline sales professionals. The earlier policy of reimbursing only those with two-wheelers has been changed in keeping with the present situation. Now, sales professionals travelling by four-wheelers will also be reimbursed by the Company.

The sales staff are given monthly allowances so that they can buy PPE kits, masks and sanitisers.

In far-off locations, there has been difficulty in connectivity. Therefore, until the situation becomes normal, the Company has also decided to reimburse the expenses on broadband connection.

Biplob Banerjee, chief people officer, Allied Blenders & Distillers, says, “This crisis has accelerated our digital journey. We are leveraging technology and video conferencing collaboration tools, and learning to work remotely, as we continue to shape ABD’s future.”

As its employee base is less, the beverages manufacturer has given around 60 laptops to employees to work from home comfortably.

“The ABD executive team is constantly monitoring and evaluating the situation and has systems and processes in place to respond appropriately, as things change and evolve,” Banerjee adds.

The regional sales offices in Gurugram and Kolkata are being readied to welcome employees, who wish to come to office or if there is a requirement. “Employees can work for two or three days in a week, in rotational shifts, with full SOPs, keeping social distance in place,” he adds.

When it comes to ensuring employees’ safety, ABD is not lagging in any way. The Company has a COVID-response team, which reviews each employee daily and monitors their health, in case anybody shows symptoms of sickness, or requires assistance.

The families of employees have not been forgotten either. To help them stay safe at home, ABD has sent small PPE kits to all the families of its employees too. “Kits have been distributed to almost 1000 employees. We are also looking at ways to address mental health issues, if there are any, by setting up some helplines and giving a day off to our ABD warriors,” the CPO adds.

Engagement activities

The Company has accelerated its investment in training and development through the launch of the ABD Academy, which offers online tutorial sessions covering different functions. These will continue beyond the Covid-19 lockdown period.

Through the ABD Academy, many in-house ‘development sessions’ are conducted by the leaders themselves, on whiskey-making procedures, cross-functional activities and so on.

Yammer, a social-media platform, allows employees to post weekly updates on varied topics and showcase activities/skills, such as cooking, dancing, singing and ways of spending time at home apart from working.

“We are running excellent courses from Harappa and Skilldom, our online learning partners. In addition to the exclusive leadership programmes from Harappa, our leaders are also taking sessions, internally, which are recorded so that employees can access them anytime,” explains Banerjee.

Compliance training workshops — on anti bribery, anti-corruption, code of conduct, conflict of interest — are also being offered and employees are getting certified on completion of these sessions or courses.

Banerjee opines, “There is a sense of anxiety in our employees and even their families. So, we feel it is time to strategically work on such areas. We plan to come up with new solutions for our employees to safeguard their sanity.”

According to Banerjee, strategic-level changes have been taking place over the past few months.

Hiring

On the hiring front, ABD has announced the next milestone in its journey with some new organisational appointments and changes to strengthen its sales, marketing, manufacturing and finance leadership.

Primarily, there has been a lot of hiring at the leadership level, while not much has changed at the mid-management level. This transformation was led by Blazquez, who joined as deputy chairman, in January.

“These new appointments will accelerate the transformation process by bringing in new thinking and allocating dedicated resources to improve some of our processes and grow our capability,” adds Banerjee.

Appraisals

The Company has completed the appraisal process for FY 2019-20, by recognising exceptional performances. The overall process was simplified this year.

“Instead of the usual five-point rating scale, this year, we had just a three-point rating scale which included ‘above expectation’, ‘meets expectations’ and ‘below expectation’. As the year was very tough, and the overall workload has gone up, we decided to keep it simple and focussed on development discussions rather than detailed performance discussions.”

Although a few promotions have taken place, there have been no increments for employees, and the employees were already informed of this earlier.

The Company had earlier deferred the salaries of the top management by up to 50 per cent, owing to the huge economic burden post the outbreak. The decision was for the first quarter and it has not changed yet.

As promised by ABD, the salaries of the frontline workers has not been touched, and will not be either.

Due to the ongoing lockdown in Maharashtra, however, the manufacturing plant in Aurangabad and the corporate office in Lower Parel are presently shut.