May 31, 2020 | Dr. Mohammad Idrees ul Islam
These days, the world is seeing coronavirus outbreak, there is a large and constant spread of this virus between people, nations, and regions. Coronavirus, which is also known as COVID-19 is a novel strainthat was discovered in 2019. Major world economies are imposing complete lockdowns to contain the virus. A third of the worldwide population is under coronavirus lockdown. The number of countries in lockdown is fast growing as the virus continues to spread at a shocking rate. Only the essential services are allowed to operate, services like restaurants, shops, cinemas, schools, colleges and universities have been locked. Furthermore, public and private organizations have been advised to put their workforce on an open leave. Big multinationals companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft have postponed all of their upcoming events and asked their employees to work from home.
A coping strategy is a much more appropriate response by organizations to cope with the current crises, as the current crisis is spreading fast and showing no signs of subsiding. It is a human tendency that when faced with a certain type of difficulty on a regular basis, with time we learn to cope with it or live with it and form some strategies to get things done. Studies on identifying coping strategies involve many and differ from situation to situation. Coping has been defined as an effort to manage and overcome demands and critical events that pose a challenge, threat, harm, loss or benefit to a person while others define coping as a cognitive and behavioural attempt to alter events or circumstances that are threatening.
With no treatment or vaccine insight that can prevent the virus from spreading or cure the infected individuals. The virus has affected both public and private sectors organizations. It is affecting their various activities like Marketing, Manufacturing and Personnel. At an organizational level, the loss of personnel is the most risk, as an organization spends years in training and development. Due to the current crisis job losses are expected on a mass scale as it has already started showing effect (“India lost more jobs due to coronavirus lockdown than US did during Depression,” 2020). Human resource is the major asset of an organization and ensures the continuity of the business into the future and survival in the market. So, the current circumstances warrant a coping strategy by organizations to facilitate the continuity of their workforce. A strategy is mostly needed in case of a private sector organizations, as they have a profit motive and would like to cut cost due to current crisis. But this is a short-sighted view and a kneejerk reaction to current crisis. As when things would start to normalize and work starts to resume in the private sector, human element would be needed to carry out the tasks.
- The first and foremost strategy is ‘working from home’ or ‘distance working’. It is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, and rather work from home or from a chosen location. This is the foremost strategy to cope with the lockdown situation. During the last 2-3 decades the world has witnessed tremendous growth in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), making it possible for many tasks to be done remotely. Organizations should follow a strategy of distance working, in order to have a safe working environment and free from the virus, outside of the normal organizational confines of space and time. Distanceworkingisaworkingmethodthataimstoallowemployeestoperformtheirtasks outside of formal work environment such as at home.
- The second strategy is to work with minimal number of employees. It is a fact that not all can be done through distance mode. Some level of contact is unavoidable when it comes to some industries. In order to overcome it, an organization can work with presence of minimal staff at a site. As all the businesses have been affected due to the current crisis, they are not working at full capacity. Take the case of IT sector as the government has asked them to work with up to 50% staff strength, there is no such cap for e-commerce companies. So, in order to avoid gathering of employees inside the organization, reducing their number for the time being seems like a good strategy to keep the chances of infection low.
- The third strategy is to cut expenses of operating and reduce salaries of the employees for the time being. Due to the current lockdown most businesses have stopped work completely or partially. This has already resulted in cost cutting due to the variable component in the cost. Employees can also be encouraged to take a cut in their salaries for a while. Private sector is known to resort to cutting expenses during crisis, whether it may be seasonal measure or a reaction to a particular crisis. Cost cutting strategy to cope with a crisis in a business is well known.
- The fourth strategy to help business during these troubled times is to ask for a stimulus packages from the government. Entrepreneurs are an important cog in the wheel of an economy and their failure has a negative effect on an economy. They generate wealth for themselves, for the nation and generate employment. Nations need to shield both their common citizens as well as their entrepreneurs from the devastating effects of the pandemic. It has been a practice of almost all the nations that during crisis their respective governments come forward to help the entrepreneurs to survive during troubled times.
- To renegotiate the terms of payment/salary with employees, suppliers and banks. This is more of a post crisis measure and is expected to be available for all businesses. As this crisis has a pan world presence, so everyone is aware of the difficulties faced by common citizens and by businesses in meeting their financial obligation with suppliers or banks. Some service providers have already increased the time for their payments, government has increased the time for tax filling and banks have increased time on their monthly instalments. Even employees can be assured of salary payments post conflict. More such measures are expected from the suppliers of raw materials, service providers as well as from banks once the crisis is over.
- An entrepreneur will be faced with difficult decisions throughout his journey and downsizing or Layoff of employees is one of them. This decision is concerning the actual human resource of an organization and can be very difficult to make or even to communicate. Employees who have been with a business for many years, been part of the success of a business or the reason behind its success. They can be asked to consider an unpaid leave for the time-being with assurance of re-engagement post crisis.
- The strategy is to make use of the workforce when a need arises. Engaging the employees on a need-based requirement. Mobile communication has made it possible to keep track and remain in contact with a person all the time. Some essential service businesses are allowed to operate even during these times. Take the example of online vendors, there work is associated with ordering, when an order is received only then they need to be mobilized from the warehouse to the customer. Through mobile communication their activities can collaborated in real-time in order to avoid gathering at a particular place and at the same time fulfilling an order.
- The last strategy is to learn from this experience. We are all learning a lot about how we could have better prepared for this disaster. Use this time as a wakeup call and learn from this experience. Start taking notes and don’t return to the status quo when this is all over. Always keep a financial reserve for your business that could help in times of need or disaster. Big businesses are able to better cope with crisis because of the various reserves. A small business can keep a reserve as per its requirements. This can be in the form of fixed sum of money kept in a saving bank account and withdrawn only in case of crisis. The amount will depend on the financial obligations of a business such as employee salary and living cost for the entrepreneur. A business can keep a reserve for a quarter or two. This amount will also be helpful during low payment collections. A business should consider a change in the working model so as to include and build door delivery service of its products. There should be diversification in products and services offered as well. Consider investing in essential or day-to-day products so that cash flow continues during crisis times as well.
Author is a lecturer, Department of Management Studies, North Campus, University of Kashmir