For the management at Naveen Jindal-led Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL), the need to build a business continuity plan and have disaster-response protocols in place, arose in the month of February itself. When Kerala declared COVID a state-wide calamity on February 3, the top leadership at JSPL began working on a plan for the future.
Karan Sandhu, chief learning officer (CLO), Jindal Steel and Power, says that the Company undertook measures to cordon off large areas within the factory townships, built quarantine facilities and contraptions for hands-free hand washing and through the CSR arm of the organisation, built and distributed N-95 and washable masks amongst its employees and their families. All this happened in the beginning of March, as Sandhu says, even before the national quarantine hit the country.
Being part of the essential services, the plants at JSPL remained functional throughout, operating with minimum capacity in staggered shifts to maintain physical distancing as per government norms. Within the plants and townships, medical teams and hospitals are available around the clock for any emergency.
Interestingly, JSPL recorded its highest ever export of steel and related products in the month of April. Its steel plant in Angul recorded the highest ever production of hot metal last month.
In the corporate offices, on the other hand, employees and managers participated in rehearsals simulating a remote-working scenario, just to get used to the practice. The plan was to familiarise people with online collaborative tools, such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. In addition, the Company set up protocols and ground rules, such as regular morning and evening huddles to discuss the events of the day and prepare for the next.
During this time, managers have to understand the psychological condition of the employees and help them ease into the new normal
Doing so helped them avoid unprecedented hurdles in working from home. For instance, it was during one of these rehearsals that the team working under Sandhu discovered a snag in the firewall, which was solved immediately by the in-house IT team. “Many of the C-suite leaders have the experience of working remotely and this helped us in putting together a plan faster,” says Sandhu.
Going back to office
Office resumed with the minimum 33 per cent capacity initially, and only after a thorough fumigation of the entire complex.
Within the office, extra measures have been taken to ensure that there is minimum touching of surfaces and maximum physical distancing is maintained.
Two thirds of the chairs have locked up as the number of people using them has reduced. Dustbin lids have been removed to ensure easy and contactless disposal of garbage. High-touch areas, such as restroom doors are kept open so that people can use the facilities without having to touch any surface. Privacy is still maintained, of course. The number of people allowed in the lifts has been further limited, and hand sanitisers have been placed outside every door, even in the basement parking space. Apart from these, precautions such as wearing of mask at all times, are mandatory within the office premises.
Truck drivers have been allotted a special area within the plant, which is sanitised regularly and equipped with food and resting facilities for their use. This has been done to protect these drivers and the rest of the employees in the plants from spreading the virus unknowingly. Due to the nature of their job, drivers are prohibited from loitering around the campus. In addition, the turnaround time for loading and unloading has also been reduced so that trucks are able to come in and go out faster, without any loss of time and pose less of a risk for the other employees in the area.
From an HR standpoint, this will show us leaders at every level, and this is the moment for people to step up
Yet another precautionary measure taken by the Company for its corporate office employees is the spraying of their vehicles with a disinfectant before they leave at the end of the day. Employees queue up to have their vehicles sprayed. “I like to think of it as a gesture from the Company towards our employees to get home safe,” says Sandhu.
Learning and engagement
All formal offline learning activities were put on hold by the organisation, in the month of March itself, and some have now been moved online. For the plant workers, on the other hand, on-the-job learning has been an on-going process as usual. As Sandhu elucidates,
“The plants and factories being high-risk areas, continuous training and retraining is a must in all circumstances, to avoid serious injuries or worse. “On the job mentoring is an on-going process in the plants,” he adds.
As for the rest of the corporate employees, a host of webinars are organised regularly with each one lasting 45 minutes to an hour at max. Leaders also engage through online conversations, where they discuss their professional and personal journeys with the employees.
In addition, employees are sent easy-to-learn business concepts in the form of short, one-minute video lessons. Moreover, there is a curated list of courses on the steel industry, which employees can pursue at will. All webinars, sessions and courses are available to the employees on demand.
Sandhu elaborates how this is the time that will make or break organisations and define leaders. Empathy and compassion are the need of the hour. Moreover, businesses need to be agile and form crisis-management groups early on, because what the future holds is still unclear.
“During this time, managers have to understand the psychological condition of the employees and help them ease into the new normal,” explains Sandhu. It is important to acknowledge the stress of the employees in the plants, and their concerns about their own families.
“From an HR standpoint, this will show us leaders at every level, and this is the moment for people to step up,”concludes Sandhu.