Coping with the Covid-19 crisis in OmanApril 9, 2020
The Energy Year talks to Murtaza Firoz Jariwala, managing director of Vanguard Engineering & Oilfield Services, about how the company is navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging opportunities to evolve and provide new services. Vanguard Engineering & Oilfield Services manufactures and installs custom technologies for upstream projects in Oman and the region.
What are the key elements to dealing with the current economic stress and leading a business through the coronavirus crisis?
A key aspect is collaborating online and working together as a team. Listening to ideas from your entire team is crucial because anyone might have a very bright piece of input that can make a huge difference. The methods we have been applying to conduct our business are based on our experience over the last 20-30 years. That is now all out the window. Fresh ideas can really bring out-of-the-box solutions and therefore we should be open to listening to them. The more input we get, the better the solution we come up with.
A second piece of advice would be to take advantage of digital marketing and social media to connect with people. We have to change the way you conduct your business. We have to learn to evolve.
What best practices has Vanguard put into action to adjust its operations to the new reality of the rapid global escalation of the pandemic?
We are providing products and solutions to the oil and gas sector and cannot stop manufacturing because the Omani economy depends on that. The government has been creating ways for activities such as ours to continue.
Our office personnel have been working from home for a couple of weeks now. Fortunately, we already had most of the online communication systems set up before the outbreak of Covid-19, so it was easy to transition to a remote work environment. The past weeks have been a good learning curve for some of our people who had not been using our digital infrastructure regularly to get comfortable with it. It is a different environment for all of us and some employees are taking a while to get used to it. Due to Covid-19 concerns, more than 80% of our total office workforce works from home and we are limiting in-person visits to our office locations on a case-by-case basis.
We also have people in both our workshop and manufacturing shops as well as on the client side at physical locations in the field. The people in the workshop are much safer because we try to limit their exposure to the outside world. They go from their accommodation to the workplace and from the workplace back to their accommodation. Their food is controlled and cooked by us. We do not allow them to eat anything from outside. Our policy of containment has so far been successful.
We have also introduced an additional late-night shift into our employees’ work schedule so we can distance people as much as possible and make sure they spend the least amount of time working together. We only had morning and evening shifts in place before the outbreak.
Oil companies in Oman are also providing special disinfectants and personal protective equipment for their contractors to use against the coronavirus. We are obeying the strict guidelines operators have put in place. We are disinfecting boots and have put in place faster testing and virus detection systems so we can detect the virus using temperature control monitoring. No preventative measure is 100% effective in preventing infection, but such actions can at least reduce the chances of contamination.
Covid-19 is forcing companies to reduce workforce costs. How essential are layoffs and furloughs to maintaining activities in the months to come?
We are not planning on laying off any of our employees because of Covid-19. There are some layoffs that had already been scheduled prior to the outbreak, which are going ahead. It is very difficult for us to predict how the business is going to pan out because we do not see when the emergency measures will come to an end.
The benefit we have is that all of our sales teams can work remotely, submit offers and proposals, and respond to enquiries. This was already happening online.
Another major challenge is that Covid-19 has led to a drastic crash in the oil price. If this is not temporary and remains the case for more than three to six months, we will have to improvise and develop a different strategy. Operators are very concerned about what will happen to their budgets for exploration and future prospects are not looking very promising in the oil and gas sector. China reopening its factories is good news, yet the pace of development will be dictated by how quickly supply chains start functioning again.
How can the distress caused by Covid-19 allow companies to create more efficiencies across their supply chain and introduce new solutions such as Vanguard’s Totally Optimised Product Sourcing (TOPS)?
New opportunities can always emerge during downtime and times of crisis because people are more open minded. We have started seeing that all of the oil companies are now calling us because they are not able to get technical support from outside the country. As a local services player, we are well positioned to provide them with onsite support and manufacturing so they can continue with their day-to-day operations.
We are currently working on taking the TOPS concept to the next level. We are using social media to reach out to our clients and show them the exact benefits of what we can bring to them with more cost-effective products.
In challenging times like these, some of our clients are ready to step out of their comfort zone and take more risks. That gives us an opportunity to bring in new, custom-made technologies. We are considering launching online master classes to offer guidance on the use and benefits of some of the technologies that we have in our various product lines. Most of our clients are more open to listening these days. I have had some long chats with customers since the virus broke out and the amount of information and knowledge they are ready to share and listen to is huge.
How do you think the outbreak has affected the work-life balance of energy executives around the world?
I have no doubt that families are becoming happier because they are seeing their loved ones more. As an executive, you normally spend 70% of your time in the office. Currently, most of us spend 100% of our time at home, which allows for better interaction with our family members.
It is the time to be introspective and cut out the excess and unwanted activities we have been doing on a regular basis due to our materialistic needs. You will be surprised to realise that you can still live without all of those things.
The world we knew will be drastically different going forward. Human beings are opportunistic, and regardless of the potentially devastating socio-economic impacts of Covid-19, we will learn to live with the new reality.